Driving the news
On Saturday, an Indian warship once again came to the aid of a merchant vessel in the Gulf of Aden, which was hit by a ballistic missile fired by Houthi rebels of Yemen on Friday night.
The NBCD (nuclear, biological and chemical damage control) team, with fire-fighting equipment, from guided-missile destroyer INS Visakhapatnam boarded Marshall Island-flagged Marlin Luanda to help the 22 Indian and one Bangladeshi crew members on board the tanker on Saturday.
“INS Visakhapatnam, which was deployed in the Gulf of Aden, rendered assistance after the merchant vessel in distress requested it. No injuries have been reported,” a navy spokesperson said.
US warship USS Carneyand other coalition ships also responded to the distress call by MV Marlin Luanda, which was 60 nautical miles southeast of Aden in Yemen, and provided material support.
Why Red Sea matters
- Yemen-based Houthi rebels are targeting ships in the Red Sea to retaliate against Israel’s military actions in Gaza, disrupting the Suez Canal route.
- US, British and other coalition forces are conducting joint strikes to counter Houthi attacks on vessels in the Red Sea.
- The Red Sea facilitates almost 14% of global maritime trade, including 30% of global container traffic.
- The Red Sea is a major source of oil transport, as it carries about 5.5 million barrels of crude oil per day.
- As per report, a prolonged disruption in Red Sea trade could lead to a 2% surge in goods inflation and potentially higher interest rates.
- Approximately 400 commercial vessels usually transit the southern Red Sea, but companies are now rerouting through the longer Cape of Good Hope passage.
- The conflict has led to rerouting of ships, increased transit times, and higher shipping costs, aggravating global inflation.
- At the same time, the Panama Canal faces passage restrictions due to drought, and the Chinese Lunar New Year is causing a rush in goods movement.
How India is responding to Houthis challenge
India has sent 10-12 warships to the area stretching from the north and central Arabian Sea to the Gulf of Aden, up from the two that are usually stationed in the region, according to serving and former security officials.
The ships are monitoring India-flagged ships, but have also been the first responders in a number of recent incidents. Last week, India’s guided-missile destroyer INS Visakhapatnam responded to a distress call from US-owned bulk carrier Genco Picardy, which came under a drone attack in the Gulf of Aden.
The INS Visakhapatnam responded swiftly to a distress situation when it intercepted a cargo ship carrying 22 crew members, including nine Indians, shortly after the vessel, registered under the Marshall Islands, experienced a drone attack in the Gulf of Aden.
On January 5, the navy successfully foiled a hijacking attempt on the Liberian-flagged MV Lila Norfolk in the North Arabian Sea, ensuring the safety of all the crew on board.
Additionally, on December 23, the Liberian-flagged MV Chem Pluto, manned by 21 Indian crew members, was subjected to a drone strike off the western coast of India.
Furthermore, another commercial oil tanker, en route to India, fell victim to a presumed drone assault in the Southern Red Sea on the same day. This vessel was crewed by a team of 25 Indians.
What they’re saying
Chief of Naval Staff Admiral R Hari Kumar, addressing the media at the Global Artificial Intelligence Summit, emphasized the navy’s commitment to safeguarding India’s maritime interests and ensuring regional stability. Kumar highlighted the ongoing anti-piracy and anti-drone operations, signaling India’s proactive stance in combating maritime threats.
“The job of the navy is to ensure that we preserve, protect and pursue our national interest in the maritime domain. That is what we are doing,” Kumar said.
“The Indian navy remains committed to ensuring the safety of Indian maritime trade and merchant vessels operating in the region and contributing towards maintaining a stable and peaceful Indian Ocean region,” the navy spokesperson said.
Between the lines
Crucial maritime trade between Europe and Asia is facing major disruption due to escalating attacks by Houthi rebels and Somali pirates on merchant ships transiting through the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and Arabian Sea over the last few months.
Importantly, India has not joined the US-led multi-nation ‘Operation Prosperity Guardian’ underway in the Red Sea. India’s engagement remains distinct, choosing not to partake in the US-led coalition, reflecting its policy to engage only in United Nations-sanctioned missions and its complex diplomatic ties with Tehran.
In a recent dialogue with his Iranian counterpart, external affairs minister S Jaishankar delved into the complexities of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden’s security landscape, stressing the critical nature of these maritime routes for international trade and stability.
As per a Wall Street Journal report, despite not joining ‘Operation Prosperity Guardian’, the Indian navy’s activities are increasingly mirroring a deeper collaboration with the US in the Indo-Pacific, aimed at balancing China’s influence. This partnership is partly facilitated by American military technology. A significant stride in this direction is the $3 billion defense acquisition from the US, encompassing 31 Predator drones, with the navy slated to receive half.
In a strategic shift, India has recently redirected two of its Predator drones, leased from the US, from their standard missions to gather precise imagery of the maritime areas experiencing turmoil.
Over the past decade or so, the Indian navy has made substantial additions to its arsenal, incorporating over a dozen domestically-manufactured warships equipped with missiles and torpedoes. These new assets have expanded India’s naval fleet to about 140 warships, and plans are underway to nearly double this number in the coming years, with the majority being produced within the country.
This year marked India’s entry as a full-fledged participant in the Combined Maritime Forces, a collective initiative headquartered in Bahrain. This coalition includes nations like the US, Australia, Japan, the UK, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives.
The Indian navy’s ongoing operations, such as Operation Sankalp, and its rapid response to incidents like the drone attack on MV Genco Picardy, demonstrate its readiness and capability to address maritime threats. The navy’s use of advanced technologies, including AI, for operational and logistical purposes, further enhances its strategic posture in the region. As global powers like the US and the UK take military action against Houthi positions, the Indian navy’s role in securing the maritime domain remains critical.
(With inputs from agencies)