The Indian Navy and the Coast Guard in a joint operation on Friday, destroyed a pirate mother ship, Prantalay, off the Lakshadweep group of islands and arrested 15 pirates.
They also rescued 20 fishermen of Thailand and Myanmarese nationalities who were being held hostage by the pirates after Prantalay was hijacked by them on April 18 last year. Since its hijack, the vessel was being extensively used by the pirates to launch attacks on merchant vessels passing along the shipping lanes off the island chain.
“The vessel has been a risk to international shipping for many months and has carried out several attacks,” said the Navy in a media release.
As reported by The Hindu on Friday, a Coast Guard Dornier aircraft on Friday shooed away two skiffs that were closing in on MV CMA CGM Verdi, a Bahama Flagged container ship, about 300 nautical miles west of Lakshadweep. “Seeing the aircraft, the skiffs immediately aborted their piracy attempt and dashed towards the mother vessel Prantalay, which hurriedly hoisted the two skiffs onboard and set a westerly course to escape from the area. This action cleared all doubts of Prantalay being used by pirates as a mother vessel. Whilst the Coast Guard and Navy Dorniers continuously tracked Prantalay, Indian Naval Ship Cankarso (a recently commissioned Water Jet Fast Attack Craft) which was already deployed in the area for anti-piracy patrol, was directed to intercept and investigate Prantalay,” said the Navy.
By Friday evening, INS Cankarso approached Prantalay and made all efforts to establish communication on the international Mercantile Marine Band, but the vessel did not respond and continued to proceed westwards in the hope of escaping.
According to the Navy, Cankarso fired a warning shot well ahead of the bows of Prantalay to compel it to stop in keeping with internationally accepted norms. Instead of stopping, however, Prantalay suddenly opened fire on INS Cankarso. The warship returned limited fire in self defence. Thereafter, it was observed that a fire had broken out on Prantalay (mother vessels are known to carry additional fuel drums to fuel the skiffs). Personnel were also seen jumping overboard, the Navy said.
INS Cankarso recovered 20 fishermen of Thai and Myanmarese nationalities. These were the original crew of the fishing vessel and were being held hostage for several months. Fifteen pirates were also recovered, under humanitarian considerations. INS Cankarso was subsequently joined by INS Kalpeni and CGS Sankalp. Naval and Coast Guard ships and aircraft are presently in the area searching for any other fishermen and pirates, said the media release.
In addition to the anti-piracy patrols being sustained in the Gulf of Aden since Oct 2008, in view of the dangers from vessels such as Prantalay, the Navy and the Coast Guard have been maintaining vigil west of the Lakshadweep Islands in the last two months. This has proved effective in keeping the international shipping lanes in this region safe from piracy attacks and piracy incidents in this area have seen a 75 per cent decline since December last.
South Eastern Arabian sea is a focal point of international traffic and the security of these sea lanes in the Arabian Sea is critical to the flow of global trade.