Cdr Gurpreet S Khurana
Despite lessons from the past when India was subjugated by major sea powers, modern India is not particularly known for a maritime outlook. Recent events go further to underscore the ÃÂsea-blindnessÃÂ of its policymakers, which bears the potential to undermine not only IndiaÃÂs ÃÂvitalÃÂ interests, but also its foremost strategic imperative of ÃÂself-preservation.ÃÂ
On 15 September 2008, Somali pirates hijacked MT Stolt Valor and held 18 of its Indian crewmen hostage. The Indian government took more than a month to respond. Furthermore, it was evident ÃÂ at least from media reports ÃÂ that its decision to dispatch warships for anti-piracy patrol was driven neither by the crisis per se nor by the recommendations of its Navy. It seemed to be impelled by public opinion, mobilised by the wife of Stolt ValorÃÂs master.
The response was not only ÃÂtoo lateÃÂ but ÃÂtoo littleÃÂ as well. Even factoring the presence of warships from other countries, the sea area in question is too vast for a few warships to prevent attacks by the 1,000-odd Somali pirates operating in groups of 25 to 30. Once a merchant ship, fishing boat or yacht has been hijacked and taken into SomaliaÃÂs territorial waters, patrolling is pointless from the perspective of the victim vessel. A covert rescue operation by Special Forces in territorial waters then becomes exigent.
However, New Delhi dithered to task its Navy for something that was legally permitted and more importantly, encouraged by UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1816 of June 2008.
In contrast, many other seafaring nations like Denmark and France used the said legal provision for commando action in Somali waters, leading to the rescue of their citizens and capture or elimination of pirates.
Of course, there are risks involved in such an operation, such as in terms of adverse international ramifications of collateral damage.
But if the use of force is ÃÂproportionate,ÃÂ its legitimacy can be justified. Even a failed mission is invaluable for deterring pirate activity.
Image: Boats, including fishing vessels, off the Mumbai coast. Photograph Indian Defence Review. Unauthorised reproduction prohibited.