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India leads fight against Somali pirates

An Indian warship sank a Somali pirate 'mother ship.' At least 91 ships have been hijacked this year off the coast of Somalia.

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The INS Tabar, which was dispatched to the Gulf of Aden in October after a spike in piracy, has already escorted more than 35 Indian and foreign-owned ships through the waters off the coast of Somalia and thwarted two hijacking attempts, according to the Indian Navy.

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Additionally, as the Indian military has recently been working to show off its increasing might, Ashok Mehta, a retired Indian Army general, says this is the first time the Indian Navy has independently carried out an attack this far away from its own shores.

It's also the first time India's Navy, the fifth largest in the world, has received authorization from the government to act autonomously. In the past, ships had to wait for orders from New Delhi before carrying out preventive as well as deterrent attacks.

"Fighting against militants in Kashmir is a different thing," says Mr. Mehta. "The Army commanders are directed ... by the power brokers in Delhi. But fighting pirates off Somalia, you need to make split-second actions."

Other than the US Navy, the Indian Navy has emerged as the most formidable maritime force in the Indian Ocean, he says. It now competes for influence in the area with China's sophisticated naval force.

India is in the process of expanding its Navy. Aside from adding nuclear submarines, it plans to commission three aircraft careers to its fleet by next year.

Still, when it comes to the piracy threat, Bhaskar stresses the need for a concerted, multinational naval effort to rein in the Somali marauders. "The Indian Navy cannot do this alone," he says. "We need to fight this menace collectively."

Aside from military action against the pirates, Bhaskar adds that the international community needs to develop a plan for how to take legal action against the pirates in the event any are apprehended. Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991 and lacks the infrastructure to properly prosecute the pirates, he says. "They could be tried in a court in Mombasa [Kenya], if the international community can arrive on a consensus on this. But wherever you take them, they must not be released back in Somalia."

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