Free Run for Pirates as Ministries Squabble over Security for Ships

By Yatish Yadav

An ambitious sea-warrior project of the country is in deep waters, thanks to the inept handling of the Italian Marines case.

The raging controversy over the alleged clumsy probe into the Italian marines case is threatening to derail the country’s sea-warrior project designed to combat Somali pirates targeting government-owned vessels plying in North-West Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden.

The Union Law Ministry and Ministry of External Affairs, facing the heat for the glitch-ridden trial of the two marines accused of killing two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast in February 2012, have refused to clear the Home Ministry’s proposal of deploying commandos drawn from the paramilitary for the project. Before giving its nod to provide trained soldiers, the Home Ministry has sought clearance and direction formulating Standard Operating Procedures (SoPs) and international guidelines for government forces on board.  Sources said the proposal was forwarded to both ministries seeking their approval because commandos will operate in international territorial waters and government armed guards on board merchant vessels require specific guidelines to act in accordance of the rules and coastal state requirements in international waters. “Despite several reminders, the proposal is stuck with the Law and External Affairs Ministry for the last one year. We were told that due to the Italian Marines case, the clearance would be difficult to come by anytime soon. We have already trained 150 commandos of Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) in sea-warfare and another batch of 150 commandos is now undergoing training,” a source said.

According to estimates of the UK Defence Academy, 297 ships were attacked by the Somali pirates in 2012 and in the last seven years, approximately $385 million in ransom was paid to pirates to rescue over 150 hijacked vessels. Concerned over the threat, the Ministry of Shipping in August 2011 had issued guidelines regarding deployment of armed guards in Indian merchant ships to combat the piracy in Gulf of Aden saying that 35 per cent of the ships transiting in these waters deploy armed security guards and pirates generally don’t attack ships with armed guards on board.

The private merchant ship owners were allowed to engage Private Maritime Security Companies (PMSC) for deployment of armed security guards. While government had deployed a naval warship to escort Indian flagged vessels, special commandos of the paramilitary unit was proposed for government-owned merchant vessels plying on the dangerous sea route.

“We had decided to raise 10 units with a total 1500 commandos to fight pirates who have been staying at sea for up to 10 months in a year. The commandos were selected from operational components of the special warfare command of CISF,” a senior home ministry official said.

Apart from rigorous training exercise in close combat, hand to hand combat, under water operation, air and land fight, the commandos were imparted tactical training by navy and air force trainers to enhance their operational skills and field craft to tackle heavily armed pirates.

According to a report of International Maritime Organisation (IMO), total number of incidents of piracy and armed robbery against ships reported to the Organization to have occurred or to have been attempted from 1984 to the end of December 2012 has risen to 6,569.


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