Indian navy recaptures Somali pirate ship and frees crew | Piracy at sea

India’s navy said it recaptured a ship from Somali pirates off the Indian coast on Saturday, rescuing the crew and ending a three-month takeover of the bulk carrier MV Ruen.

The hijacking in December 2023 was the first time since 2017 any cargo vessel had been successfully boarded by Somali pirates.

The Indian warship Kolkata “in the last 40 hours, through concerted actions successfully cornered and coerced all 35 Pirates to surrender and ensured safe evacuation of 17 crew members”, the navy said.

Indian forces first intercepted the MV Ruen on Friday, the navy said. “The vessel opened fire on the warship, which is taking actions [in accordance with] international law, in self-defence and to counter piracy, with minimal force necessary to neutralise the pirates’ threat to shipping and seafarers.”

None of the rescued crew members were injured in the operation, carried out by several naval vessels along with helicopters and other aircraft, the navy said.

Bulgarian owner Navibulgar hailed the Ruen’s release as “a major success not only for us, but for the entire global maritime community … The resolution of this case proves that the security of commercial shipping will not be compromised.”

Bulgaria’s foreign ministry said it was seeking the “speedy return” of seven rescued nationals. The other crew were nine Burmese and one Angolan.

The pirated ship was recaptured nearly 1,400 nautical miles, or 2,600km, from the Indian coast, according to the military.

The Indian navy had monitored the MV Ruen since it was seized by Somali pirates 380 nautical miles east of the Yemeni island of Socotra.

The pirates, who at the time released one injured Bulgarian sailor into the care of the Indian navy, had taken the MV Ruen and its remaining 17 crew members to Somalia’s semi-autonomous state of Puntland, where the Indian navy said it was moored off the city of Bosaso.

India’s military has stepped up anti-piracy efforts in recent months after an uptick in maritime assaults, including in the Arabian Sea and by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels in the Red Sea.

Pirate attacks off the Somali coast peaked in 2011 with gunmen launching attacks as far as 3,655 kilometres (2,271 miles) from the Somali coast in the Indian Ocean – before falling off sharply in recent years.

The December 2023 attack followed a spike in armed seaborne attacks around the Horn of Africa not seen in years. Analysts say Somali piracy poses nowhere near the threat it did in 2011, when navies around the world responded, but the recent upswing has raised further concerns about marine security and shipping at a time when crucial trade corridors off Yemen have come under siege.

Somali pirates have traditionally sought to capture a “mother ship” – a motorised dhow or fishing trawler – capable of sailing greater distances where they can target larger vessels.

Since the Houthi attacks, experts say, cargo ships have become more vulnerable to attack as they slow down to await instructions on whether to proceed to the Red Sea.

With Agence France-Presse

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