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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Shooting War That Could Turn Worst

INS Tabar, patrolling the seas near Gulf of Aden and Somalian north coast, engaged in shooting match with Somali pirates! Few weeks ago, commandos, flying in a military helicopter, shot at and drove away speed boats trying to board merchant ships carrying Indian and Saudi flags. Now INS Tabar guns fired at and destroyed the so-called mother ship, a ship that tows speed boats close to their target ships while providing food, ammunition, and space for pirates.

"This pirate vessel was similar in description to the 'Mother Vessel' mentioned in various piracy bulletins. INS Tabar closed in on the vessel and asked her to stop for investigation," a Navy spokesperson said.

But the pirates threatened to blow up the warship if it sailed closer to their mother ship, despite repeated calls from INS Tabar to stop and let the Navy personnel to inspect the ship, he said.

The Navy noticed that pirates were roaming on the upper deck of the vessel with guns and rocket propelled grenade launchers in hand, and they continued the threats and subsequently fired upon INS Tabar.

In their retaliatory action in "self-defence," INS Tabar opened fire on the mother vessel of the pirates. "As a result of INS Tabar's guns booming, fire broke out on the pirate vessel and explosions were heard, possibly due to exploding ammunition that was stored on the vessel," he said.

Almost simultaneously, Indian Navy said, two speed boats were observed breaking off to escape. The ship chased the first boat, which was later found abandoned. The other boat made good its escape into darkness, he added.

While some of the pirates could have escaped in the speed boats, a few on board the destroyed mother ship perished, he said.

The Somalian pirates have become more and more brazen capturing tens of ships in the past few weeks including a huge crude oil tanker worth around $100million in the seas of Somalia pumping up Somalian economy. Also, we know Islamic terrorists have a role in Somalia gangs. This piracy business could be related to terror financing. That's what could turn things for the worst for Indian Navy in the near term.

It was clear that the pirates were fighting back before turning tail. It is possible, in future, they will get bold and attack Indian naval ships preemptively, like what they did to USS Cole near Yemen. What would be the response of Bharatiya government be? Will it stay and complete the task of bringing piracy under control in the area or will it cut and run? This would be the first time Bharatiya military would be challenged outside its boundaries, although by irregulars. The response to future attacks will have long term implications to the strategic direction of the country.