Tuesday 21 September 2021, 05:44 AM
By IANS | Bharat Defence Kavach | Publish Date: 7/28/2011 12:00:00 AM

INS Godavari and PNS Babur

Piracy is an age old method which is robbery on the high seas of  a ‘making a quick buck’ with less risks than any other method of

Hugo Grotius

robbery because  the seas are free to roam as Hugo Grotius of Holland scripted in his treatise ‘Mare Liberum’ the 19th century.

It was on that principle  the world adopted the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Seas, UNCLOS in 1982, though USA is not a signatory but claims it adheres to all clauses, like India is not a signatory to the NPT but adheres to most clauses. It is a fact the last  century witnessed  hijacking of airplanes  for political ends and  minor ransoms, and many steps were taken and the incidence brought down but this  century is witness to  sea-jacking  known as  ‘Piracy’.

The UNCLOS vide  article 102 stipulates, piracy can be combated only  by warships, and in the last 3 years nineteen nations warships have been disparately   engaged in anti- piracy operations off the Horn of Africa, and cooperation in a formal manner or under UN auspicies as India has proposed is eluding the world. Piracy is now a business for those who pirate, those who negotiate the ransom and war lords of Somalia.  Last year IMB reported   pirates took a record 1,181 hostages in 2010 and Somalian  pirates seized 49  ships.

The Indian Navy has done a commendable job and ships  flagged with the Indian Flag  have been safe guarded as they invariably follow the   Internationally  Recommended Transit Corridor( IRTC) which leads from Aden towards Mumbai and has been continuously patrolled by the Indian Navy with success, but  6% of the world’s seamen are Indian seafarers on foreign flagged ships and many have been  taken   captives with their ships and dragged into safer Somalian territorial waters and two have been killed, possibly as  reprisals for   punitive  actions by the India’s  Navy.

The Indian Navy has   killed pirates  in action  in three bold anti-piracy actions and 129  have been apprehended including minors and the Navy has thwarted a dozen of  attacks. But in retaliation, Somalis have threatened to target Indian seafarers in captivity.  MOD was  led to the give the Indian  Navy  a half-hearted mandate - to disarm  pirates, but told to use kid gloves for  hostage rescue.  This ''mid-way measure'' of one hand tied on one’s back can be a nightmare for a Commanding Officer being threatened by a Somali pirate pointing a grenade launcher at his  ship, emboldening pirates to move towards Indian shores. New rules and laws have been promised by the Defence Minister. 

Navies are also ham struck.  No warship can enter the territorial waters (within 12 nautical miles) of a nation as that would mean transgressing the nation’s sovereignty, though the UN has passed a resolution that warships may carry out hot pursuit in case of piracy off Somalia only but then the danger is, the pirates will harm or kill the hostages. So it’s a catch 22 situation, and this business of coping with pirates to get  a ship released is fraught with dangers, and warships can only ward off the pirates before they board a merchant ship if the warship or its helicopter has arrived  in its vicinity in time.

The area of piracy has now expanded to 3 mill square kilometers, off Seychelles and Laskshwadeep islands. Its is a major task to police the whole area, hence piracy continues off Somalia, while it is has been controlled in the Malacca straits by setting up a Regional organistaion called RECAAP and an Infusion Information  Intelligence centre to keep a plot of all shipping,  and the ASEAN nations have cooperated in a ‘Eyes In The Skies’ programme. The  Indian Navy and Coast Guard have deputed officers to Singapore in both set ups and contribute funds.  But why is increasing off the Horn of Africa is an oft asked question?


Piracy  off Somalia can be attributed to the political vacuum created by foreign interference, fishing by foreign companies and strife  in Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia. This has resulted in no proper governance in Somalia and Puntland. Unemployment is rampant, fishermen and those who were in  arms have lost their means of livelihood. To eke out a living, these desperados are willing  to risk  lives  at sea and volunteers are aplenty.

 The war lords in the region and now religious fanatics employ these   capable sea going sea dogs on a fixed salary, with  promise of  a bonus for a job well done by investing  in boats, skiffs, out board motors, weapons and gizmos like GPS navigators and long range communication sets. The pirates are  homed on to targets  at sea from ashore. This is possible, as merchantmen  above 300 tons are obliged to respond and indicate their  position via the  Automatic Identification System(AIS) and  reporters   can locate  targets which have low free board and are susceptible to armed attacks, invariably  carried out at dusk and dawn.

The other side of piracy is its commercialization. Money is  paid by ship owners  by way of ransoms demanded and negotiated.  A ship to its  owner  is worth a few millions of  dollars, and the ship earns the owner  daily revenue in thousands of dollars in charter( rent). The  cargo owners, have cargo on board which is invariably worth more than the value of the ship. Every day that the ship is in captivity all three,  the owner, the charterer and the cargo owner jointly known as cargo interests  hurt, and the morale of the crew and their families and the reputation of the Shipping Line suffers. Today some insurance companies offer limited Piracy insurance for a premium, but  many  companies have not  been able to deliver the large sums.  

Whilst a ship is in captivity,  the ‘cargo  interests’ jointly   look forward  to pay off affordable  ransoms and legal go-betweens act as sharks to make a   quick easy buck  through negotiations with the war lords of Somalia,  now linked to  terror money too. This new  brew of “terropiracy” is dangerous, as the  Al Shabab group in Somalia is reported to have links with Al Qaida. Article 1 of the Geneva Convention on Belligerents, states  that countries where militia or volunteer corps constitute a threat,  they are come under  the denomination “army”. So like the al-Qaeda operatives, Somali pirates are by definition enemy combatants waging a war through piracy. No wonder USA has commenced  drone attacks in Somalia, in its  war to eliminate Al Quida.

Once a ransom is agreed, arrangements are made for a money drop to get the  ship and crew  released. This sharing of the ransom money is akin to  ‘General Average’, when all cargo interests and insurance bear the cost of the ransom like, in a   Force Majeure.  The ransom money is transported  in cash by helicopters or air carriers or  secretly  facilitated through venues like  Kenya,  Dubai and Djoubiti and that system has been  working. The ransom is shared by the war lords with the ransom  facilitators. The successful pirates get a  bonus, the same system which is followed in investment banking. 


India’s  Navy has acted daringly but currently around 49  Indians are in captivity. Ten months  ago the Egyptian merchant ship MV Suez registered in Panama was seized by Somail pirates and the 22 man crew under Capt Wasi included Egyptians, Pakistanis and six Indians and included  Ravinder Gulia from Rohtak,  Cadet Satnam Singh, Prashant Chauhan a chef and  Sampa , among others. 

A ransom of $ 2.1 mill was arranged for the release in June by the Egyptian  ship owner contributing  $ 1.2  million and Ansar  Burney of Pakistan the rest and it is said the  Government and  charitable groups contributed.  

Accordingly the MV Suez was released in early  June and sailed to freedom  in a poor condition. The ship and crew  suffered ten months of neglect and sailed out and came under attack once again when PNS Babur which was  part of the Task Force F 151 US Coalition group fighting piracy, arrived on the scene warded off the pirates   and  provided food and medicines and transferred a doctor to escort the MV Suez.
Pakistan Navy Chief Admiral Noman Bashir took over the rescue operation code named Umeed-e-Nuh. There was a hue and cry in Indian media, questioning why the six Indians were being taken to Pakistan.  En route  it was  reported  INS Godavari arrived on the scene and may have made efforts to take over the Indian seamen, which PNS Babur may have resisted.  An unnecessary   minor collision between PNS Babur and INS Godavari  was reported in the media and finally due to heavy seas MV Suez sank 75 miles off Salahah in Oman. PNS Babur rescued the crew on 18th June and transferred them to PNS  Zulfiqar which arrived to take the the crew to Karachi. In mid July  the Indian seamen were repatriated to India and reunited with their families.

The incident could have been avoided if Indian Navy and Pakistan navies had adhered to the CBM not to approach each other within three miles, and needs to be discussed between the navies to ensure better coordination in anti piracy operations. 
 (Cmde retd Ranjit B Rai is Vice President Indian Maritime Foundation which fosters cooperation between Indian and Merchant Navies.)




भारत डिफेंस कवच की नई हिन्दी पत्रिका ‘डिफेंस मॉनिटर’ का ताजा अंक ऊपर दर्शाया गया है। इसके पहले दस पन्ने आप मुफ्त देख सकते हैं। पूरी पत्रिका पढ़ने के लिए कुछ राशि का भुगतान करना होता है। पुराने अंक आप पूरी तरह फ्री पढ़ सकते हैं। पत्रिका के अंकों पर क्लिक करें और देखें। -संपादक

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