Track trail of ransom money to pirates: Navy chief

New Delhi: Warning against the "cancerous potential" of pirates joining hands with terrorists, the Indian Navy has stressed the need for tracking the "fiscal trail" of huge sums of money paid as ransom to sea brigands besides carrying out counter-piracy operations.

Addressing the International Seapower Symposium at New Port in the US Friday, Navy Chief Admiral Nirmal Verma said pirates were benefiting by the `catch and release` policy of the navies but India was in the process of having domestic laws to tackle the menace.

Citing a report which stated that the economic cost of piracy may be as high as USD 12 billion a year, Verma said, "The question that begs to be answered is that how do they manage to divert funds in so unfettered manner?"

"There is a need to build a strategy beyond multinational maritime counter-piracy operations to facilitate tracking of the fiscal trail". "It is important that our efforts be cultivated before what is at present a relatively benign problem of piracy, develops a nexus with radical terrorism which has a cancerous potential," he said.

Observing that piracy had resulted in high cost of operations for the shipping industry, Verma said at present, "nine ships with over 300 seafarers of a range of nationalities, including 53 of my own countrymen are presently hostages in this contentious conflict".

He said, "Despite multinational efforts, the number of incidents of and net effects of piracy are on the rise with seasonal variations on account of monsoon and other geographic shifts dependent on the presence of naval units." Expressing concern over the spread of piracy near Indian island territories due to international counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, he said now pirates are using hijacked merchant vessels as mother ships which give them an extended reach of over 1000 nautical miles from Somalia.

Admiral Verma said due to spread in area of operations of pirates closer to India`s island territories, the country had to increase its deployment in the anti-piracy campaign. India was "particularly concerned" about the safety of mariners in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) as it was geographically centred aside the major shipping routes in the region, he said, adding the Navy has deployed its warships in the Gulf of Aden since 2008.

"So far, of the nearly 1800 ships that have been escorted by the Indian Navy in the Gulf of Aden, more than 80 per cent have been flying flags other than Indian," he said. Verma said that increased deployments in the Arabian Sea have resulted in four pirate mother ships being intercepted by the Indian Navy and Coast Guard earlier this year. "Consequently, there has been a reduction of piracy incidents in the area, and we intend to maintain this posture to assure international shipping," he said. The Navy chief said that international efforts towards combating piracy would benefit if there were fewer disparate task forces and independent naval operations.

"India`s relative autonomy of efforts towards combating piracy off Somalia can be traced to its preference for a UN mandated operations which we believe if adopted would holistically enhance the efficacy of operations," he said.

He said the measure of using armed guards is increasingly gaining preference but the maritime community has to be cautious of cases of mistaken identity as there have been cases near Indian coastline where regular fishermen have been mistaken as pirates. "In this cycle of `cause-effect-cause`, there is a real danger of innocent casualties on account of mistaken identities. We have therefore issued advisories on this aspect," he said.