35 Somalis brought to India for trial over ship hijacking

Published March 24, 2024
Accused Somali pirates wait to board a police van at the Indian naval dockyard in Mumbai on March 23. — AFP
Accused Somali pirates wait to board a police van at the Indian naval dockyard in Mumbai on March 23. — AFP

MUMBAI: India brought 35 accused Somalis to Mumbai on Saturday, days after they were apprehended when naval commandos recaptured a hijacked bulk carrier and rescued several hostages.

The December hijacking of the Maltese-flagged MV Ruen was the first time since 2017 that any cargo vessel had been successfully boarded by Somali pirates. Indian commandos boarded and took control of the vessel on March 17 some 260 nautical miles (480 kilometres) off the coast of Somalia.

The destroyer INS Kolkata, which led the rescue operation, arrived in Mumbai early on Saturday carrying all 35 men accused of the hijacking.

A navy statement said the operation “upheld the principles of international law and commitment to ensuring safe seas and maritime security in the region”.

Detained men were taken handcuffed to police station and some showed signs of injury

A journalist at the scene saw each of the detained men handcuffed to a police officer and taken into police vans. All appeared to be in good spirits although some showed signs of slight injury including visible bandages.

The group was expected to be brought before a magistrate later on Saturday. Navy spokesman Vivek Madhwal said this week marked the first time in more than a decade that men captured at sea would be brought to Indian shores to face trial for piracy.

Under India’s anti-piracy laws, the men face the death sentence if they are convicted of a killing or an attempted killing, and life imprisonment for piracy alone.

Last Saturday’s rescue was the culmination of a 40-hour operation.

Commandos parachuted out of a military C-17 airplane to board the vessel in an assault that “successfully cornered and coerced” all 35 pirates aboard to surrender, an earlier navy statement said.

In the process they freed the MV Ruen’s 17 crew members — nine from Myanmar, seven from Bulgaria and one from Angola — none of whom were injured in the rescue. Bulgarian vessel owner Navibulgar called India’s rescue a “major success”.

Somali pirates have in the past sought to capture a “mother ship” capable of sailing greater distances so they can target larger vessels. The European Union naval force said the MV Ruen could have been used by pirates for their successful hijacking of the bulk carrier MV Abdullah on March 12.

The Bangladesh-flagged MV Abdullah has since been steered into Somali waters, with its 23-member crew still held hostage.

India’s navy has been deployed continuously off Somalia since 2008, but it stepped up anti-piracy efforts last year following a surge in maritime assaults, including in the Arabian Sea and by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels in the Red Sea.

At least 18 other suspected pirates have been captured by India’s navy this year, including in operations to rescue three Iranian-flagged fishing vessels.

Information on the fate of those hijackers has not been publicly released.

Since the start of the Houthi attacks, many cargo ships have slowed down far out at sea to await instructions on whether to proceed. Experts say that has left them vulnerable to attack.

Published in Dawn, March 24th, 2024

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