Displaying courage, coordination, and competence of the highest order, the navies of India and China worked together to ward off a piracy attempt in the Gulf of Aden, this weekend. The joint operation of the two navies ended in the rescue of a merchant ship from pirates on Sunday.
Indian Navy Received Distress Call
On the night of Saturday, 8 April 2017, four ships of the Indian Navy – INS Mumbai, INS Tarkash, INS Trishul, and INS Aditya – which were deployed in the Mediterranean region were passing through the Gulf of Aden. The ships received a distress call from a nearby merchant vessel, MV OS-35 which had come under attack by Somali pirates. INS Mumbai and INS Tarkash were immediately dispatched to the ship’s rescue.
The 178-metre long bulk carrier belonging to Tuvalu (an island nation in the South Pacific region) was on its way from Kelang in Malaysia to Aden port in Yemen. The Captain and 18 other crew members had locked themselves in a strong room – the standard operating procedure (SOP) in case of a pirate attack. As the Indian ships closed on the merchant vessel, Navy personnel established contact with the crew. INS Mumbai launched a helicopter that carried out an aerial reconnaissance of the vessel under attack.
The helicopter conducted an aerial survey of the upper decks of the OS-35 and conveyed to the crew that the pirates had probably fled. The crew emerged from the strong room and also attempted to search the vessel.
Chinese Navy Joins Rescue Mission
A nearby Chinese Navy ship, Yulin, also joined the operation and a boarding party arrived on OS-35 with helicopter cover being provided by the Indian Navy. The 18 PLA Navy personnel then established that the Filipino crew of the merchant ship was safe and that the pirates had indeed fled. The two navies exhibited excellent communication and coordination in the operation. They maintained cordial exchanges and thanked each other after the exercise.
Since about 2005, Somali pirates have indulged in loot and pillage of merchant ships causing much disruption to global maritime trade and international shipping. In 2011, piracy off Somalia peaked with over 237 incidences of such attacks and over many hundreds of hostages being held for ransom. In the past couple of years piracy has declined, though, leading merchant ships to become lax in security matters.
Ever since the disastrous Indo-China war of 1962, relations between the two nations have remained rather cold. Mutual distrust and conflicting interests have prevented cordial ties between these Asian neighbours despite many common factors. Even now the two countries are embroiled in a row over the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh. The international community greatly fears that relations between the two nations are reminiscent of 1959 when the Tibetan spiritual leader escaped China on foot and was provided asylum in India. This, in fact, was one of the reasons China regarded India as a threat to its administration of Tibet – a major contributing factor in the 1962 war.
China’s ambition to build a network of maritime facilities (both military and commercial) through the Indian Ocean – the String of Pearls – has kept the Indian Navy vary of its intentions. Given the natural suspicion and wariness with which the two navies treat each other, this episode has come as a refreshing reminder of what the two countries can achieve if only they decide to cooperate in more areas. A harmonious India and China can transform Asia and put the region in the centre of the world map.