Pirate ship sunk by navy, Coast Guard in Arabian Sea

New Delhi, Jan 29 (IANS) In a major anti-piracy operation by the Indian Navy and Coast Guard in the Arabian Sea, a Somali pirate ship was sunk in a gun battle off Lakshadweep Islands and 15 brigands apprehended Friday, an official said.

The two maritime forces also rescued 20 Thai and Myanmarese fishermen, the original crew of Thai fishing trawler Prantalay which was being used as a mother-ship by the pirates. They also apprehended 15 Somali sea brigands, who all jumped overboard from Prantalay that went up in flames, a navy spokesperson said here Saturday.

Prantalay had been captured by the sea brigands in April last year and its crew held hostage. Since then, the sea brigands were using it as a mother-ship to which skiffs (smaller motor boats) were fastened to later launch attacks on merchant vessels in the high seas.

This is the second such sinking of a mother-ship by the Indian Navy during the two-and-half years of anti-piracy operations it has been carrying out in the Gulf of Aden beginning October 2008 and in the Arabian Sea in the last two months.

The first sinking of a mother-ship took place in December 2008 in the Gulf of Aden.

In a coordinated joint operation carried out by the two maritime forces, the pirate mother-ship that was being used by Somali pirates since April 2010, was intercepted and sunk by the warships that fired at the pirates in self-defence, he said.

The Indian warships were chasing Prantalay that was first noticed by a coast guard Dornier patrol aircraft while carrying out a surveillance sortie west of Lakshadweep at 10.30 a.m. Friday.

The Dornier aircraft had responded to an emergency call from Bahamas-flagged container vessel CMA CGM Verdi when the plane crew noticed two pirate skiffs closing in on the cargo ship to carry out an attack.

Though the pirates fled from the area on noticing the coast guard, the navy and the Coast Guard soon sent their ships to track Prantalay.

The navy and Coast Guard ships closed in on Prantalay around 5 p.m. INS Cankarso, a new fast-attack craft of the navy which was in the vicinity, too was ordered to join the chase.

The craft, on nearing Prantalay, fired a warning shot over the trawler's bow. But the pirates, instead of stopping, opened fire at the fast-attack craft forcing the navy to respond, resulting in the fishing trawler going up in flames.

The pirates on board Prantalay were noticed jumping off the fishing trawler into the waters, the spokesperson said, adding that Cankarso picked up 20 original crew members of Prantalay of Thai and Myanmarese nationalities. The 15 pirates on board Prantalay too were captured by the naval craft.

INS Cankarso was subsequently joined by INS Kalpeni and CGS Sankalp.

The spokesperson said Prantalay, under the control of the pirates, had become a risk to international shipping for many months and had been used to carry out several pirate attacks.

The coast guard Dornier had spotted Prantalay hurriedly hoisting the two skiffs that had abandoned an attack on Verdi and set a course to the west to escape from the Indian maritime forces.

'This action cleared all doubts of Prantalay being used by pirates as a mother vessel. Whilst coast guard and navy Dorniers continuously tracked Prantalay, Cankarso, which was already deployed in the area for anti-piracy patrol, was directed to intercept and investigate Prantalay,' he said.

Cankarso had made all efforts to establish communication with Prantalay through the international mercantile marine band, but the vessel did not respond and continued to proceed west in a bid to escape.

'Since December 2010, the number of piracy incidents in the area around Lakshadweep has seen a 75 percent decline. Southeastern Arabian sea is a focal point of international traffic and the security of these sea lanes in the Arabian Sea is critical to the flow of global trade,' the navy spokesperson said.

A couple of days ago, Indian Ambassador to the United Nations Hardeep Singh Puri had presented to the Security Council a five-point action plan to combat piracy, which included joint operations of the world's navies against the menace under the UN flag.