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Watchdog group welcomes Indian attack on pirate vessel

Watchdog group welcomes Indian attack on pirate vessel

Kuala Lumpur: An anti-piracy watchdog group on Thursday welcomed an Indian warship’s destruction of a suspected pirate vessel in waters off Somalia where hijackings have spiralled out of control in recent weeks.

“If all warships do this, it will be a strong deterrent. But if it’s just a rare case, then it won’t work" to control the unprecedented level of piracy in the Gulf of Aden, said Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau’s piracy reporting centre in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

In a rare victory in the sea war against the Somali pirates, an Indian warship, INS Tabar, sank a suspected pirate “mother ship" in the Gulf of Aden and chased two attack boats on Tuesday. The pirates have stunned the maritime community with their brazen attacks, highlighted by the hijacking of a Saudi-owned supertanker carrying crude oil last week.

Choong said he was heartened by Tabar’s success.

“It’s about time that such a forceful action is taken. It’s an action that everybody is waiting for," said Choong.

The Indian Navy said the Tabar, operating off the coast of Oman, stopped the ship because it appeared similar to a pirate vessel mentioned in numerous piracy bulletins. It said the pirates fired at Tabar after the officers asked it to stop to be searched. Indian forces fired back, sparking fires and a series of onboard blasts—possibly caused by exploding ammunition—which destroyed the ship.

Since the beginning of the year, 39 ships have been hijacked in the Gulf of Aden out of the at least 90 attacked.

Besides India, several other countries, including the US, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato) have warships patrolling the area. But attacks have continued off Somalia, which is caught up in an Islamic insurgency and has had no functioning government since 1991.

Pirates dock the hijacked ships near the eastern and southern Somalian coast and negotiate for ransom.

Choong and other officials say patrolling warships are hampered by a lack of a mandate to bring the hijackers to justice. Many European countries have restrictions on how far their ships can go in engaging the pirates, and countries interpret international laws on piracy differently. For example, Nato ships can intervene to prevent the seizure of ships if they are in the vicinity.

“But what they don’t have the mandate to do is to board ships that have already been hijacked to free the crew," said Nato spokesman James Appathurai in Brussels.

Germany does not allow its warships to intercept hijacked vessels because their civilian crews of various nationalities could be at risk in the event of a firefight, Choong said.

On Wednesday, Russia’s ambassador to Nato, Dmitry Rogozin, called on the international community to launch a joint amphibious operation against pirate strongholds in Somalia. However, any such operation would likely require the approval of the UN Security Council, whose resolutions on anti-piracy operations are vague, Choong said.

“The UN and international community must decide how to solve this grave problem. They must be more forceful in their action," he said.

Action should have been taken “years back or even last year when piracy was just starting. It’s clearly getting worse and out of control", he said.

Vijay Joshi in Kuala Lumpur and Slobodoan Lekic in Brussels contributed to this story.

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