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Elite Indian commandos to guard merchant vessels

Khabar Southeast Asia
Thursday, October 25, 2012
By Chandan Das

 Indian navy sailor B.K. Gurung holds his position on the flight deck of USS Mustin (DDG 89) during a visit, board, search and seizure drill April 7, 2007, while under way in the Philippine Sea.

India has decided to deploy special armed squad onboard merchant ships to protect them from Somali pirates.

Concern over Indian Ocean piracy -- especially in the vital Gulf of Aden shipping lane – is prompting the government to set up an elite commando unit to protect Indian merchant vessels sailing through the region. The unit will accompany marine commandos of the Indian Navy (MARCOS).

"The Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) has decided to train 100 personnel to accompany and protect the Indian merchant vessels in the piracy infested waters, especially in the area off the coast of Somalia," Harendra Singh, CISF deputy commandant and public relations officer, told Khabar South Asia.

Details of the pilot programme, he added, are being finalised and the squad should be operational by year's end.

The September decision follows urgent pleas from India's shipping merchants, who requested the protection after several high-profile piracy incidents in the Indian Ocean. During the period ranging from late March 2012 to early May of this year, 43 Indian seafarers were kidnapped for ransom by Somali pirates.

Armed escort ships

As many as 6,900 CISF personnel will deploy to guard the country's 14 major ports, including Mumbai, Chennai, Visakhapatnam, Kolkata, Haldia, Kandla, Goa, Paradip, Mangalore, Tuticorin, Kochi and Ennore. Meanwhile, elite troops will accompany merchant vessels as they sail past the piracy-affected Somali coast.

The commandos, armed with sophisticated long-range weapons instead of standard-issue 5.56mm rifles and pistols, will be fully prepared to counter any incidents of piracy. At least five will be deployed on each ship, Singh said.

The Gulf of Aden shipping lane is critical to the Indian, Chinese and Japanese economies. In response to a written reply to Parliament, shipping minister G.K. Vasan estimated annual Indian imports through the Gulf of Aden at $50 billion, and exports at $60 billion.

Officials: existing measures not enough

Durga Nandan, Joint Secretary at the Ministry of Shipping, said the authorities decided to step in because the options currently available fall short of the mark.

"At present, cargo ships belonging to various nations deploy foreign nationals for their security while passing through the Gulf. Several vessels, sailing with Indian flags, depend on security agencies that employ foreign nationals for protection in regions prone to piracy," he told Khabar.

"As all these have proved to be inadequate in dealing with the piracy menace, the government has decided to deploy its own commandos on Indian vessels to guard them," he said.

Pradip Kundu, Captain of the MV Karine Bulker merchant ship, told Khabar the decision was both prudent and timely. "If you go by a recent report of the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), altogether there have been 210 incidents of piracy across the globe since January 1st," he said. "Among these, as many as 70 incidents have taken place in the Gulf of Aden, off the coast of Somalia."

During the same period, Somali pirates hijacked 13 merchant vessels and took 212 hostages, and they now have 11 cargo ships and 118 seafarers in their custody, Kundu added.

At the same time, he said, the presence of armed security personnel on board merchant ships carries its own risks. He cited the February 15th killing of two Kerala fishermen mistaken for pirates by guards aboard an Italian vessel.

Precautions should be taken to protect innocent people like fishermen from being mistakenly targeted, he added.


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