The Indian Navy said that its marine commandos successfully rescued all crew members of a Liberian-flagged merchant vessel, preventing a hijacking attempt in the Arabian Sea. In a statement released on Friday, the Navy confirmed the safe rescue of 21 crew members, comprising 15 Indians, from the MV Lila Norfolk during their interception operation. Importantly, no pirates were found on board the vessel.
“All 21 crew (including 15 Indians) onboard safely evacuated from the citadel. Sanitisation by MARCOS has confirmed the absence of the hijacker’s personnel. The attempt of hijacking by the pirates was probably abandoned with the forceful warning by the Indian Navy and MPA of interception by the Indian Naval warship. INS Chennai is in the vicinity of MV and rendering support to restore the power generation and propulsion and commence her voyage to the next port of call,” the Indian Navy said in a statement.
The Navy reported that its forces initiated “sanitization” operations on the ship within a day of receiving a distress call about a potential hijacking off the coast of Somalia in the North Arabian Sea. According to an Indian Navy statement, the vessel had transmitted a message on the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations portal, alerting authorities to the presence of five to six unknown armed individuals who boarded the ship on Thursday evening. British maritime security firm Ambrey noted that the vessel was en route to Khalifa bin Salman in Bahrain, although its cargo remained unclear at the time.
“The attempt of hijacking by the pirates was probably abandoned because of the the forceful warning by the Indian Navy’s marine patrol aircraft, as also interception by an Indian Naval warship,” the Navy added.
Sanitisation by MARCOs has confirmed absence of the hijackers.
— SpokespersonNavy (@indiannavy) January 5, 2024
Earlier in the day, the Navy announced the diversion and deployment of the warship INS Chennai to aid the vessel. Additionally, a naval aircraft, P8I, flew over the hijacked vessel on Friday, establishing contact with it, as per the Navy’s statement.
The Navy said it “remains committed to ensuring the safety of merchant shipping in the region along with international partners and friendly foreign countries”.
In response to a recent surge in attacks in the region, the Indian Navy has heightened its surveillance of the Arabian Sea. According to data from the Indian Navy’s Information Fusion Centre – Indian Ocean Region, there have been at least three hijackings in December. The last reported incident of this nature occurred in 2017.
“The pirates are taking advantage of the fact that the focus of anti-piracy maritime forces has largely shifted from the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea to deal with the Houthi rebels as the attacks are going on. In the Indian Ocean Region and the Arabian Sea, the pirates are attacking wherever they are, finding the ships are not with escorts,” remarked Captain D K Sharma, former Spokesperson of the Indian Navy.
Commenting on the Indian Navy’s operation, he added, “after this action, there should be a lull because they know now that the Indian Navy deterrent patrol is working and they can reach within no time. The moment the distress call goes, you will find that the assets the Indian Navy has got, like Maritime Patrol Aircraft, Predator MQ9B, Long-range maritime reconnaissance P8I aircraft, and the stealth guided-missile destroyers sailing in the region where the quick response is happening, and things are getting under control.”
Earlier this week, the Navy said it had investigated a large number of fishing vessels and boarded vessels of interest in the north and central Arabian Sea.