India pushes back on Somali pirates' new 'mother ship' offensive
Indian naval forces have shut down two Somali pirate “mother ships” operating close to the subcontinent, highlighting the increased range and sophistication of the pirates.
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Indian naval forces have shut down two Somali pirate “mother ships” in as many weeks operating close to the subcontinent, highlighting the increased range and sophistication of this scourge of the seas.
A new concept, mother ship is the term given to a hijacked oceangoing vessel that the pirates are using to extend their operations and avoid counterpiracy efforts closer to Somalia. Both of the mother ships off the coast of India were Thai fishing vessels captured by pirates in April 2010.
IN PICTURES: Somali pirates
While India’s Navy scored two tactical victories, maritime experts say a more robust international strategy is also needed in the face of the pirates’ proven ability to adapt under military pressure. The problem has already cost governments and businesses an estimated $7 billion to $12 billion a year and is raising costs along vital sea lanes between Europe and Asia.
“It’s a sign of the situation worsening,” says P.K. Ghosh, a maritime expert at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi. “While the numbers of incidents are going down, the [pirates’] sophistication and their strategic reach are increasing dramatically.”
Until recently, pirates had mostly used skiffs and small whaling boats operating close to shore to hijack ships for ransom. The mother ship idea – which uses the hijacked ship as a floating base for the skiffs to launch further attacks – took off in November, says Dirk Steffen, a director at the Hamburg, Germany, office of Risk Intelligence.
“They have used hijacked ships before in support roles,” says Mr. Steffen. “But in terms of using mother ships in an offensive role, not just as a pure support platform … that is new.”
Mother ships tend to be fishing vessels, small tankers, and cargo ships. The hijacked crew is kept on board. They are needed, says Steffen, because the pirates often don’t know how to work larger ships, and because they can be used as human shields in encounters with navies.
What happens to the crew
The captive crew seems to have factored little into the Indian encounters.
On Jan. 28, Indian forces responded to a Mayday from a container ship near the Lakshadweep Islands, which are Indian islands just west of the subcontinent’s tip. Upon arrival, Indian forces watched the two skiffs flee and get hoisted onboard the Prantalay 14, a Thai fishing vessel now confirmed to be a pirate mother ship. An Indian attack ship retaliated after taking fire from the Prantalay, setting the mother ship on fire. The Indians rescued 20 fishermen and 15 pirates from the ocean.
The second incident occurred Sunday, about 100 nautical miles off the Lakshadweep Islands. This time, fleeing skiffs led Indian naval ships to the Prantalay 11. After a brief exchange of fire, the pirates raised a white flag and Indian forces took charge of 28 pirates and 24 fishermen.