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Indian Navy centre’s report highlights maritime security threat from drone attacks in Indian Ocean region

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NEW DELHI : In its November 2023 monthly report, the Indian Navy’s Information Fusion Centre – Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR) emphasised the increasing peril of drone attacks in the Red Sea and Northern Arabian Sea. The report terms this trend as a “growing cause of concern for the commercial shipping and global trade transiting through the Indian Ocean region (IOR).”

The centre, located in Gurugram, observed five drone attacks in the first eleven months of this year, with three incidents specifically recorded in November. 

All in all, it monitored five drone attacks in 2023 (from Jan 2023 to Nov 2023), four in 2022, and three in 2021. The numbers could go up, as December reported more drone attacks in the region.

Houthi rebels from Yemen are targeting vessels suspected of travelling to or from Israel, responding to Israeli actions in Gaza. The rising threat in the Red Sea has led major shipping companies to reroute vessels, choosing alternative paths to avoid the volatile region.

The monthly report said, “These attacks on commercial shipping pose serious risks to the lives, cargo and may result in sinking of vessels, marine environment pollution, blockade of trade (if attacked near choke points) and most importantly will lead to increase of insurance rates thereby affecting the global economy.”

The report listed attacks comprising a drone assault on the Liberian-flagged oil tanker CAMPO SQUARE in the northern Arabian Sea on February 10, a rotary unmanned aerial vehicle approaching a vessel within 10 metres 130 NM SW of Salalah, Oman, on March 1.

In November, three instances occurred – a US Navy ship downing a drone in the Red Sea off Yemen on the 15th, a drone attack reported on the Malta-flagged container ship CMA CGM SYMI in the Arabian Sea on the 24th, and a US Navy ship shooting down a drone in the Bab el Mandeb strait off the coast of Yemen on the 29th. 

The report pointed out that, “this kind of attack on commercial shipping raises maritime safety and security concerns amongst the seafarers transiting through the IOR.”

Giving another example, it said, last month, IFC-IOR assisted a vessel attacked mid-sea in the Arabian Sea by a drone. The drone hit the forecastle area, causing no major damage.

The vessel sought help from IFC-IOR through international links for debris inspection, with the Centre coordinating the response through national agencies. 

The Centre advised seafarers to maintain vigilant visual and RADAR monitoring for potential air threats. Vessels are urged to increase speed, avoid presenting a vulnerable aspect, and report incidents to MARSEC Centres, including IFC-IOR, for assistance coordination.

Additionally, vessels should heed warnings from operational MARSEC Centres and broadcast messages on designated channels to alert nearby vessels and multinational forces.

The development comes amid this month’s attack on two India-bound vessels, MV Chem Pluto and MV Sai Baba.

India vowed a strong response to the developments and has deployed its warships in the region, including INS Kochi and INS Kolkata.

Indian Defence Minister Shri Rajnath Singh in a statement in Mumbai stated, “Those who have carried out these attacks, we will find them from the depths of the seas, and strict action will be taken against them. India plays the role of Net Security Provider in the entire Indian Ocean Region.”

Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has also spoken about the situation in the Red Sea with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and emphasised the need for maintaining maritime security and the freedom of navigation.

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