Friday, October 17, 2008
India Projects Maritime Power on High Seas
India says it will send warships to the Gulf of Aden to protect its container vessels from pirates operating off the coast of Somalia, according to a BBC report today.
Recently, there has been a dramatic increase in incidents of piracy off the coast of Somalia. In August, 18 Indian sailors were captured by the Somali pirates who claim they are protecting Somali waters. The Gulf of Aden has seen 13 incidents of hijack in the last two months. While some analysts have expressed fears of terror connections in lawless Somalia, others believe that the pirates are only interested in kidnapping for ransom. However, there are charges that some of the piracy proceeds have gone to al-Shabab, a Somali militia that the U.S. accuses of harboring the terrorists who attacked U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Piracy off the coast of Somalia is estimated to have cost up to $30m (£17m) in ransoms so far this year, according to a recent report by a UK think tank. The pirates, some backed by warlords affiliated with the transitional government installed by Ethiopia with the US backing, have exploited the chaos.
The rise in piracy in Gulf of Aden is seen by some as an unintended consequence of the US war on terror, according to Newsweek magazine. Two years ago piracy in the Horn of Africa was almost stamped out. The Islamic group that took over Mogadishu and parts of Somalia in 2006 defeated several militias involved in piracy and warned others that they'd face punishment under a harsh version of the Sharia law. This tactic worked: "During the summer of 2006 there were no attacks [on ships] at all," says Pottengal Mukundan, director of the International Maritime Bureau.
The Indian Navy is the world’s fifth largest navy. It is proud of its "blue water" capability to operate on the high seas away from the Indian shores to project India's power in the Indian ocean and to "protect" major sea routes and "impress" its neighbors. It is a three-dimensional force consisting of sophisticated missile-equipped warships, aircraft carriers, minesweepers, advanced submarines and the latest aircraft in its arsenal. India's Naval forces are maintained and supported by modern dockyard facilities with state-of-the-art technology. The Indian Navy has two major Naval bases at Mumbai and Visakhapatnam on the two coasts of India. The Chinese PLA Navy, the other major power in Asia, has ambitious plans to become the world's largest force but it currently lacks any aircraft carriers.
In 2000, the Indian Navy deployed a fleet in the South China Sea for the first time, bringing rebukes from China. Just three years later, China deployed its ships to the Indian Ocean, conducting exercises first with the Indian Navy and then with its traditional partner and India's archenemy in the region, Pakistan. Pakistan Navy is a much smaller force but it claims to be a "four-dimensional" force including marine units. It is not capable of undertaking the kind of missions that the Indian Navy recently has. In 2002, the Indian Navy conducted patrols in the Strait of Malacca to guard high-value cargo ships from attack, relieving a U.S. vessel and freeing it for other missions related to U.S. Operation Enduring Freedom.
The US Navy has been operating in the Gulf of Aden for months, claiming some success in foiling hijacking attempts by the Somalis. The area in question is a 920- by 300-mile basin separating the Arabian coast from the Horn of Africa. It is used by about 250 ships a day, according to a U.S. Navy spokeswoman, Lt. Stephanie Murdock. The Associated Press has reported that the area was the scene of the deadly al-Qaida attack on the USS Cole off Yemen. And it is a hive of illegal activity, including gunrunning as well as people- and drug-smuggling. The Indian Navy along with navy ships from several other nation will probably be helpful in dealing with piracy. But can the naval power alone succeed in stemming the growing problem of robbery on the high seas in the Indian ocean? I seriously doubt it. The piracy problem is only a symptom of the core problem of lawlessness in Somalia. What is really needed is the restoration of a functioning government in Mogadishu to deal with this menace and other terror-related problems in the Horn of Africa.
Stuck in Somalia
US Targets Somali Pirates
India as a Maritime Power
China's PLA Navy