NEW DELHI (Reuters) - The Indian navy may beef up its security presence significantly in the Gulf of Aden to counter the threat of rampant piracy to shipping companies, local newspapers reported on Friday.
Somali pirates have caused havoc in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes this year, hijacking dozens of ships including a Saudi Arabian supertanker loaded with $100 million worth of oil, the biggest hijacking in history.
The Indian navy plans to “significantly augment” its presence off the Horn of Africa, and a proposal by the Ministry of Shipping to deploy up to four warships is under “active consideration,” a senior naval officer told the Times of India.
A navy spokesman said ships would be sent to maintain a presence in the region and replace the INS Tabar already deployed there, but added “we cannot share any details on a bigger plan.”
India deployed the Tabar, a naval warship, in October to escort Indian ships after the country’s shipping firms said they were losing hundreds of thousands of dollars a month on cost overruns and delays in meeting deadlines.
India also renewed its call for greater cooperation between foreign navies to tackle the piracy threat, the Times of India reported.
One more Indian warship has been sent to carry out joint patrols with the INS Tabar, and has been granted the right of “hot pursuit” to chase pirate vessels, the Indian Express said, quoting a senior navy officer and unnamed sources.
Piracy off Somalia is forcing shipping companies to avoid the Suez Canal and send cargoes of oil and other goods on a longer and more expensive journey around southern Africa.
Pirate attacks in Somali waters this year have driven up insurance costs for shipping firms and the decision to divert cargo risks pushing up prices for manufactured goods and commodities.
“We are happy that the Indian navy has increased its presence,” Shashank Kulkarni, Secretary General of the Indian National Ship Owners Association (INSA) told Reuters.
Indian shipping is especially vulnerable to pirate attacks because a large portion of its vessels are slow-moving tankers, rather than nimbler container ships that can escape more easily and whose higher deck is harder for the pirates to reach, Kulkarni said.
There are fears the Somali pirates are spreading their reach, making it more difficult for warships to patrol such a large area, Kulkarni added.
“This is an exercise we wanted two months ago.”
A defense and security analyst told Reuters the deployment of more ships was a “tactical response” but would not address the root cause of trouble in Somalia’s anarchic state.
“It needs to have a political, diplomatic solution at the upper end. That appears to be elusive,” Uday Bhaskar said.
India has a long-term strategic interest in the Gulf and West Asia, and “should be seen to be providing a collective good,” Bhaskar added.
“It is a very modest contribution, but it points in the direction in which India should be going.”
Editing by Simon Denyer