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Nervous govt pulled Godavari off mission to help MV Suez

Even as diplomatic squabble continues,videos show that Babur had brushed against Godavari.

Written by Manu Pubby | New Delhi |
June 20, 2011 2:19:59 am

The diplomatic squabble over the “brush-off” between an Indian and a Pakistani warship in the Indian Ocean this week — with both countries lodging protests against each other — appears to have been triggered by the actions of an unsure Indian government that possibly reacted to shrill news TV reports.

The unseemly row has the potential of becoming an irritant in the upcoming foreign secretary level talks.

India pulled the INS Godavari,which was in the region on a routine international anti-piracy mission,off its regular duty to the aid of the MV Suez,which had six Indian crew on board,leading to a mid-ocean scrap with the Pakistani PNS Babur,with the two warships brushing past each other.

Pictures and videos of the encounter — which have been shared with Pakistan — show that Babur was deliberately tailing the Godavari so close that it brushed past the Indian warship’s aft. As the Pakistani warship — which was described by government sources as a “history-sheeter” with two earlier incidents of risky behaviour at sea — tangled with the INS Godavari,its crew shouted anti-India slogans.

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The chain of events leading up to the brush-off began on Tuesday,when the M V Suez was released by Somali pirates after tough negotiations and the payment of a $2.2-million ransom. The vessel began its journey to Oman under the watch of multiple navies — as is the case with any merchant vessel in the pirate-infested waters.

On Wednesday afternoon,the Suez reported that it had been attacked by pirates again. The distress signal was picked up by warships of several countries,including the INS Godavari,which was at the time escorting a convoy of three merchant ships in the area,with 21 Indians on board.

Acting as per the international convention that has governed anti-piracy operations in the region for the past three years,the Indian Navy contacted friendly navies in the region to determine which warship was closest to respond to Suez’s call. Contact was also made with the US-initiated Combined Task Force (CTF) 151,a multination coalition of warships that patrol the Gulf of Aden.

One of the first warships that responded,officials said,was PNS Babur,which is part of CTF 151. The Pakistani warship declared that it was proceeding to escort the Suez. As per the laws of the sea,the other warships in the region then continued on their patrols,staying on alert for other piracy attempts.

However,late on Wednesday,apparently after repeated reports on Indian TV that a Pakistani naval ship had reached the Suez while India was “taking no action” and “letting down” its citizens on board,the government directed the Indian Navy to send in a warship to “establish contact” with the Suez,sources said.

The directive meant pulling the Godavari off its regular mission,and putting the warships of India and Pakistan in close proximity on the high seas — a situation that has the potential of turning tense.

As it turned out,the Suez,which already had several Pakistani commados on board,failed to respond to multiple attempts by the Godavari to get in touch.

Afterward,as the Indian warship sought to disengage and return to its original escort duties,the Babur brushed across its aft.

While the incident did not boil over to a more dangerous level,it will be up to the two countries to escalate the issue or resolve it during the foreign secretary level talks. Official sources pointed out that India and Pakistan have been negotiating an agreement on mutual avoidance of incidents at sea which was stalled after the Mumbai terror attacks. “Let us see if we can resurrect that”,said a top official.

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