Thursday, 31 December 2009

Pirates attack tanker off Indian Coast!

Details sketchy, but incident likely to send shockwaves across the country.

MUMBAI, 24 December: An Indian ship with a 41 member crew was attacked by pirates in the Arabian Sea alarmingly close to the Indian coast on Monday. Although details are yet sketchy, quick and decisive action by the Master is said to have foiled the attack, which saw the Indian Navy and Coast Guard swinging into action.

The Shipping Corporation of India owned tanker Maharaj Agrasen was carrying carrying crude oil to Visakhapatnam from Min Al Ahmadi in Kuwait when she was reportedly attacked by pirates with rocket propelled grenades and machine guns barely 370 miles off the West Coast of India. PTI quoted the National Union of Seafarers of India's General Secretary Abdulgani Y Serang as saying, “"The incident took place late on Monday night when a group of pirates in speedboats attacked the vessel with machine guns and rocket propelled grenades. However, quick thinking by the ship's captain saved the crew members."  Other officials have confirmed the attack; one said that the Captain tried to ram the tanker into one of the pirate boats, then altered course and increased speed to prevent any pirates boarding the vessel. The crew is apparently unharmed.

The Times of India quotes officials from the Directorate General of Shipping (DGS) saying that SCI had contacted them to report the incident. "The owners contacted the directorate and informed us that the vessel was under attack by eight unlit boats about 366 nautical miles west of Ratnagiri," said a DGS official. The ‘Maharaj Agrasen’ was carrying 1.34 lakh metric tonnes of crude oil when she sent out a security alert at almost midnight that day.

Last Friday, Somali pirates had hijacked the Indian vessel 'MV Neseya' with 13 crew off the coast of Kismayo about 170 nautical miles North East of Mombasa; the vessel is reported to have been taken to one of the pirate havens in the country.

In another incident, the Syrian Master of the Panamanian ship Barwaqo was shot dead when he refused to alter course away from Mogadishu; the attack took place close to the harbour when the vessel was approaching the Somali capital, much of which is not under Somali government control. African Union peacekeepers and Somali forces later took control of the ship after a gun battle. Some reports claim that the master may have been killed by “friendly fire”.

The Agrasen attack will undoubtedly send shock waves across the Indian shipping Industry and the security agencies in the country. This attack, if actually just 370 miles off the coast, is new territory for Somali pirates; questions will be asked if this is some new group operating from closer than Somalia.

Analysts say that it also exposes, as an earlier incident this month where two Indian Coast Guard sailors were kidnapped for 24 hours by Sri Lankan fishermen before the Indian forces freed them, that the country’s coastline remains our Achilles’ Heel. Pirate attacks even a thousand miles from Somalia are one thing; a pirate attack just 366 miles off Ratnagiri is indeed alarming, especially in the backdrop of possible Al Shabaab, Pakistani and Al Qaeda terrorist links to the criminals.

It may be premature to comment since details of the Agrasen attack are not known so far, but it is clear that the Indian Navy and Coast Guard will have to do much more to safeguard our coastlines from any future attacks; one Mumbai is more than enough.

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