In yet another incident shockingly close to the Indian coast, a VLCC was attacked by two boats and its superstructure riddled with bullets just 340 nautical miles from Mangalore.
The 317,970 dwt ‘Starlight Venture’ was on a passage from Saudi Arabia to Japan when the incident occurred, according to reports from Singapore based Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia(ReCAAP). Around 0030 hours on October 28, the U Ming managed crude tanker was approached by two boats in approximate position 13.16N. 068.59E. Closing in fast from the tanker’s starboard quarter, an unknown number of pirates fired on the vessel, shooting out the ship’s mast lights and leaving about 50 bullet holes in the accommodation, the report says. The ship increased her speed to 16 knots and took evasive action, eventually frustrating the pirates. No injuries to the crew are reported. The 2004 built Starlight Venture is registered in Hong Kong.
Other incidents close to the Indian coast, including the discovery of eight Somali pirates at Lakshadweep earlier in the year and the hijack of the Frisia, have been reported here earlier. Equally alarmingly, another container vessel, the 6673 TEU Maersk Karachi was attempted to be boarded by pirates just a day before the Starlight Venture incident. She was in position 10.51N. 063.28E, well into the Arabian Sea (see map) at the time; fortunately, she evaded the pirate skiffs, probably due to her speed.
The attack on the Starlight Venture will no doubt send shockwaves through the security establishment in India and abroad. VLCCs are infrequently attacked, although the ‘Samho Dream’ was taken in the general vicinity of the Maersk Karachi in April this year; she and her 24 crew still remain hostage. The most high profile VLCC hijack so far was probably the ‘Sirius Star’ in November 2008. The fact that another attack has taken place much closer to the Indian coastline will be additional cause for concern.
The capability of the pirates to operate over a thousand miles off the Somali coastline is no longer in doubt. As it beefs up its coastal security apparatus, India will also have to do much more off her coastline, including identifying and possibly targeting mother ships that straddle critical trade routes from the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf going eastwards. It is not enough to protect coastlines or even coastal waters; most of the southern Arabian Sea is now criminal territory. As the Mumbai attacks proved, this threat is not just about piracy.