Navy awaits Centre's clearence to establish piracy-response system

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New Delhi, Sept 19 : The Indian Navy on Friday sought the Government's approval for establishing a system to provide a befitting response to such situations after a 22-member crew of a merchant tanker with 18 Indians that was abducted by Somali pirates recently.

On the sidelines of a seminar on defence accounts here, Vice-Admiral of the Navy R P Suthan said: "The Navy is working along with the Government to find a way to respond to situations like ship hijacking by sea pirates."

In a letter to the Defence Ministry last year, the Navy had sought directions and powers to respond to piracy threats to ships in the Indian Ocean Region through which about 80 per cent of the world's maritime trade passes. It may be recalled that pirates in the Gulf of Aden off Yemen had hijacked the Panama-owned merchant oil tanker with 18 Indian crew on board and the ships sailed to Somalian coast along with the cargo and the hostages on September 15.

The Indian Navy is always prepared for a contingency like the hijacking of a ship and has already responded to certain incidents on earlier occasions. But, in the present case, the Indian ships had just been there along the African coast carrying out patrols for over a month in August-September and had just returned home a week ago, said Suthan.

He, however, said: "The distance from Indian posts to the African coast was too long for an immediate response. India did have the wherewithal to tackle the piracy menace and it will do so with the Government approval. But there are certain legal issues involved while responding to piracy related incidents and we need to work out how to go about it. We are working out a system under which all legal issues are catered to."

Briefing the difficulties involved in responding to piracy threats, Suthan said: "Anti-piracy operations in open seas is not a problem. We have a right to go on board a ship in the open seas. When it comes to go into another country's territorial waters, there is a problem of legality involved."

He pointed out that sea piracy is a big threat to maritime safety and strongly advocated a clampdown on piracy operations.

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