Operation Sankalp: Indian Navy’s Ongoing Maritime Security Operations Completes 100 Days

Indian Navy

New Delhi: Indian Navy (IN) has responded to the manifestation of Israel-Hamas conflict in the maritime domain by re-orienting and significantly enhancing the scope of its ongoing maritime security operations since mid-December 2023.

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The navy undertook proactive actions during hijacking of Malta Flagged Bulk Carrier MV Ruen on December 14, 2023. March 23, 2024, marked the completion of 100 days of the ongoing maritime security operations under the aegis of ‘Operation Sankalp’. During this time, the Indian Navy has responded to 18 incidents and has played a pivotal role as the ‘First Responder’ and ‘Preferred Security Partner’ in the Indian Ocean Region. The significance of Indian Navy’s contributions have been further underscored with the culmination of actions against the hijacking of MV Ruen.

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Since the last 100 days, the naval ships, aircraft and Special Forces have demonstrated an unflinching resolve to ‘secure the seas’ and protect the maritime community from various non-traditional threats present in the region. Based on the threat assessment in the region, the Indian Navy is conducting maritime security operations in three areas of operations viz. Gulf of Aden and adjoining areas, Arabian Sea and off the East Coast of Somalia.

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The arduous efforts of Indian Navy since Dec 23 involved deployment of over 5000 personnel at sea, over 450 ship days (with over 21 ships deployed) and 900 hours of flying by the maritime surveillance aircraft to address threats in the maritime domain.

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With the emergence of piracy in 2008, the Indian Ocean Region has witnessed steady increase in the presence of warships from regional and extra regional navies, operating independently or under the ambit of various Multi-National constructs. In the present security scenario, the Indian Navy has taken the ‘lead’ in responding to security situations arising out of myriad of threats in the region. With over 110 lives saved (including 45 Indian sea farers), 15 lakh tons of critical commodities escorted (such as fertilisers, crude oil and finished products), nearly 1000 boarding operations undertaken, more than 3000 kgs of narcotics seized and over 450 MVs assured of Indian Navy’s presence, the ongoing maritime security operations have truly reflected Indian Navy’s capability in playing a vital role as a strong and a responsible Navy in the IOR.

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In the ongoing endeavour since December 2023, Information Fusion Centre-Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) of the Indian Navy at Gurugram, has played a transformative role as a principal hub for enabling information exchange in IOR. In addition, coordinated missions with IAF and national agencies during this period has also highlighted the synergy and inter-operability of the Services.

 

The calibrated response, ingenuity and unflinching resolve displayed by the Indian Navy during the progress of ongoing maritime security operations under the aegis of ‘Operation Sankalp’ has garnered international acclaim by virtue of the effects generated in safeguarding India’s maritime interests, countering maritime threats, thwarting the resurgence of piracy and significantly denting narcotics trade in the IOR. The response of Indian Navy to various security situations has once again proved that ‘Safety of Life at Sea’ remains an overarching principle irrespective of the nationality of seafarers.

 

Firm actions by the Indian Navy resulted in surrender of the Pirate Ship ex-MV Ruen on March 16, 2024. In an operation lasting over 40 hours that commenced in the early hours of March 15, 2024, INS Kolkata intercepted Pirate Ship ex-MV Ruen in the Arabian Sea based on inputs received by IFC-IOR from UKMTO.

 

As per the input, the ship was appreciated to be used as a Mother Ship for undertaking piracy attacks and hijacking of merchantmen. INS Kolkata commenced shadowing the Pirate Ship in early hours of March 15, 2024. Prior day break, the vessel upon sighting INS Kolkata reversed course and started heading towards the Somali Coast. Several armed pirates were observed on upper deck of the ship.

 

INS Kolkata directed the Pirate Ship to stop for investigation in accordance with International Law, especially the United Nations Conventions on the Laws of the Sea (UNCLOS). However, the Pirate Ship refused to comply and instead opened fire. INS Kolkata thereafter acted in self-defence and used kinetic measures required to disable the ship and compel the pirates to surrender.

 

INS Subhadra joined INS Kolkata in the operation. Further, Indian Navy undertook long range deployment and para drop of Marine Commandos over sea in vicinity of the pirate ship using C17s in coordination with Indian Air Force. Aerial surveillance for the operation was undertaken by Indian Navy P8I aircraft, Sea Guardian UAV, and the ship’s integral helicopters and spotter drones.

 

In the face of decisive action by the Indian Navy, all pirates onboard surrendered. The 35 pirates and 17 crew members were duly taken into custody and shifted to Indian Naval ships. Thereafter, Indian Navy specialists searched and sanitised the ship with respect to arms, ammunition and contraband, rendering it safe. In addition, assessment of seaworthiness and essential repairs were undertaken by naval technical team, for making the ship fit for further voyage.

 

On request from the ship’s original company, M/s Navibulgar, and the Master, the crew of MV Ruen were reinstated onboard the ship, which reverted her to earlier status and the ship hoisted the flag of Malta. MV Ruen there upon proceeded under own power to the next port of Salalah (Oman), as decided by the company, under escort of INS Subhadra to safeguard it against further pirate attack.

 

INS Kolkata, with the 35 apprehended pirates returned to Mumbai on 23 March 2024 and handed over the Pirates to the local police for further legal action in accordance with Indian laws, specifically the Maritime Anti-Piracy Act 2022.

 

Indian Navy displayed high degree of professionalism and upheld the principles of international law and commitment to ensuring safe seas and maritime security in the region. As part of the ongoing Operation Sankalp, Indian Navy ships are deployed in the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden towards safety of seafarers and mercantile trade passing through the region.