Navy nabs 61 Somali pirates after gun-battle

New Delhi: After a gun-battle in the high seas, the Indian Navy has apprehended a pirate mother ship rescuing 13 crew members and arrested 61 Somali sea brigands about 600 nautical miles off the western coast in the Arabian Sea.

"At 2100 hours on March 12, INS Kalpeni intercepted a pirate mother vessel called Vega 5 in the Arabian Sea about 600 nautical miles west of India. 13 crew members were rescued and 61 pirates were nabbed," Navy spokesperson Commander P V Satish said here today.

The operation had started on Friday when a naval Dornier aircraft located Vega 5 while responding to a call from a merchant ship MV Vancouver Bridge in the area and foiled the piracy attempt, he said.

"Seeing the naval aircraft, the pirates immediately aborted their piracy attempt and the mother vessel attempted to escape from the area. Simultaneously, INS Khukri and Kalpeni were diverted to intercept and investigate," the spokesperson said.

After INS Kalpeni closed in on Vega 5, the pirate vessel launched two skiffs attacking the Indian Navy ship with fire arms, he said.

"INS Kalpeni responded with limited firing and, thereafter, it was observed that a fire had broken out on Vega 5 and its personnel were seen jumping overboard," he said.

Later on, INS Kalpeni in conjunction with INS Khukri found 74 personnel comprising 61 pirates and 13 crew members of the fishing vessel.

Preliminary investigations, officials said, have revealed that the pirates were carrying about 80 to 90 rifles and a few heavier weapons, possibly rocket propelled grenades (RPGs).

Vega 5, a Mozambique-flagged fishing vessel, was hijacked on December 10, last year and was being used as mother vessel for piracy operations. The brigands had carried out several attacks in last four months, the officials said.

"Naval ships and aircraft are presently in the area searching for any other fishermen or pirates," they said.

After the operation, the apprehended pirates and the Vega-5 were being brought to Mumbai for further investigations, they said.

In addition to anti-piracy patrols being sustained in the Gulf of Aden since October 2008, the Navy and the Coast Guard have been maintaining vigil west of the Lakshadweep Islands in the last four months.

"This has proved effective and piracy incidents in this area have seen a 60 per cent decline since December 2010," the officials said.

The Navy had sunk two pirate mother ships on January 28 and February 5 in the Arabian Sea and arrested 43 pirates there under `Operation Island Watch`.

INS Kalpeni is a fast attack craft which was inducted into the Navy in October last year whereas INS Khukri is a missile corvette. The ships were present in the area as part of anti-piracy patrol.

The operation apprehending 61 pirates comes after the Cabinet Committee on Security on Friday last decided to adopt a proactive approach in dealing with sea brigands, who have held around 53 Indians as hostages in different hijacked ships. The government has ruled out negotiations with the pirates.

The government is working on a tough law to deal with the piracy problem.

At present, piracy is dealt with under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code and century-old Admiralty Law but the government is considering a separate statute with provisions to effectively tackle the problem that takes place far away from Indian shores.