There has been a sudden increase in piracy incidents over the past few weeks in the Northern Indian Ocean region and the Western Arabian Sea. The flag displayed by a vessel at sea carries little significance, as pirates now target any ship that presents an opportunity. Consequently, the Indian Navy has deployed many assets in response to this unprecedented surge in attacks. Nitin Gokhale, Editor-in-Chief of Bharashakti, interviewed Rear Admiral Sudarshan Y Shrikhande (Retd), discussing the various complex issues surrounding these incidents. The key points from the interview are summarised below.
Commenting on the recent surge in piracy incidents in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), Rear Admiral Sudarshan Y Shrikhande (Retd) highlighted that Piracy, a practice that has existed since time immemorial, has experienced a resurgence. The sudden increase in attacks by pirates aiming to hijack ships in the Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs) leading to the Gulf of Aden may be attributed to the heightened volatility resulting from the Israel-Hamas conflict. Additionally, the support provided by Houthi rebels in Yemen to the Palestinians could be contributing to this alarming trend.
Amidst the ongoing conflict involving drones and missiles, pirates have discerned a chance to escalate their activities. They’ve recognised that ships are increasingly preoccupied with the threat of ballistic missiles and drones targeting merchant vessels, providing the pirates with an opportune moment to intensify their operations. To curb this trend, the Indian Navy has deployed its ships in large numbers along with long-range maritime surveillance aircraft and Sea Guardian MQ9B Unmanned Armed Vehicles (UAVs), he observed.
Pirates have altered their modus operandi and appear to adapt their tactics to maintain effectiveness. They are now indiscriminately targeting ships of all nations without any reservations. It is noteworthy that, acknowledging India’s sustained efforts and the decreasing piracy trend, the High-Risk Area (HRA) was relocated westward on October 8, 2015, moving it more than 1,400 km away from the Indian seaboard (refer to the map below). This adjustment provided significant relief to the Indian shipping industry and effectively addressed India’s maritime security concerns.
Piracy High Risk Areas
Navies deployed in these regions actively collaborate by exchanging information, showcasing a notable increase in cooperative efforts. The Indian Navy’s strategic investments over the past few decades, including initiatives such as Fusion Centres and bilateral and multilateral exercises with littoral states, are now yielding dividends. A recent illustration of this cooperative approach is the successful multinational anti-piracy operation involving India, Seychelles, and Sri Lanka, underscoring the effectiveness of these initiatives, the former naval official highlighted.
The Indian Navy has consistently conducted Anti-Piracy operations independently, refraining from affiliating with any particular construct. It remains committed to undertaking necessary measures to uphold good order and discipline at sea while ensuring the freedom of navigation in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
The situation in the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea differs, primarily stemming from the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict extending to the sea. The Houthis have explicit objectives: they aim to halt Israel’s attacks on Palestine in Gaza. Indiscriminately targeting merchant shipping, regardless of the flag, the Houthis have caused significant disruptions in global trade flowing through the Gulf of Aden, Bab-el-Mandeb, and the Red Sea, he observed.
Deploying such a substantial number of Indian ships may pose challenges to the Navy’s training efforts. However, it also presents an opportunity to enhance skills in managing sea-related situations, which are likely to persist frequently and require sustained attention in the future, Rear Admiral suggested.
The Quad nations, namely Australia and Japan, may not currently be actively engaged in this context, but they should recognise the mutual impact of trade benefits and disruptions. Their ongoing cooperation in providing Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities and other forces remains crucial. Non-membership in the Quad should not hinder collaboration, as the objectives of the Quad are fundamentally beneficial for all. A shared purpose among all nations in the region is to ensure freedom of movement along sea lanes and maintain good order and discipline at sea, Shrikhande concluded.
(Note: To watch full interview, click on this weblink https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVxtc0RO-lw&t=84s)