Indian Navy Retakes Merchant Ship From Armed Hijackers in the Arabian Sea

January 7, 2024 4:12 PM - Updated: January 7, 2024 5:48 PM
An Indian Navy destroyer escorts an unidentified merchant ship. Indian Navy Photo

Indian Navy commandos secured the hijacked Liberian-flagged MV Lila Norfolk last week after a 24-hour confrontation off the Somali Coast in the Arabian Sea. This swift response comes as New Delhi reinforces its presence in the area, surging ships and aircraft to deter attacks on international shipping in the Western Indian Ocean Region.

Five to six armed hijackers boarded Lila Norfolk on Thursday, which was sailing 450 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia. The crew of the Lila Norfolk, composed of 15 Indian and six Philippine nationals, sheltered from the hijackers in the bulk tanker’s citadel and were unharmed during the entire ordeal. Indian naval forces deployed the destroyer INS Chennai (D65) as well as several helicopters and aircraft, including an American-built P-8 maritime patrol aircraft and a MQ-9B SeaGuardian drone, in response.

Eventually, a team from the Indian Navy’s Marine Commandos (MARCOS) boarded the vessel. None of the hijackers were found onboard, and all of the crew were rescued from the citadel – the ship’s armored safe room. The Indian Navy claimed that the perpetrators were likely compelled to flee after witnessing the mass response of Indian forces to the hijacking and subsequently fled during the night, according to a press release.

The rescued sailors thanked their rescuers in a video recorded by MARCOS. Meanwhile, the Indian Ambassador to the Philippines also highlighted the Filipino crew rescued as a “stellar demonstration of mission deployed Indian Navy efforts to ensure (the) security of our oceans and seafarers.”

While it is unknown what group carried out the attack, the location of the hijacking is off the Somali coast. Sporadic attacks still occur despite the presence of dedicated anti-piracy task forces to safeguard international shipping. Alongside various nations, including the U.S., China and Russia, New Delhi has kept up a naval presence to assist maritime security efforts off of Somalia.

However, since the beginning of drone and missile attacks against merchant vessels by Iranian-backed Houthi forces in Yemen, the Indian Navy has bolstered its Arabian Sea deployment. The bulk of India’s latest destroyers, five of six P15A/B-class destroyers, have been deployed to the region. Indian Coast Guard patrol ships have also been sent in close coordination with Indian naval forces.

Manila-based Geopolitical Analyst Don McLain Gill told USNI News that since India’s independence in 1947, New Delhi has seen itself as the Indian Ocean’s “first responder and net security provider.”

“As a rising great power in its own right, India maintains its desire to play a larger and more proactive role as a responsible security and development partner and provider, not only in the Indian Ocean Region but also the greater Indo-Pacific region,” Gill said.

New Delhi’s increased maritime security presence follows attacks on several predominantly Indian-crewed merchant vessels in the region, with the most concerning occurring only 200 nautical miles off the Indian coast against MV Chem Pluto last month. India’s defense minister pledged to bring those responsible, saying that India “will find them from the bottom of the sea, and strict action will be taken against them.”

Following the operation, Lila Norfolk set sail for its destination under Indian Navy escort.

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa

Aaron-Matthew Lariosa is a freelance defense journalist based in Washington, D.C.

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