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Indian Navy operation on high seas led to arrest of 35 pirates, rescue of 17 hostages

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 NEW DELHI : A high-tempo operation carried out by Indian Navy on the high seas 2,600 km from the Indian coast has led to the arrest of 35 armed pirates, while 17 crew members of former Maltese-flagged merchant vessel (MV) Ruen were rescued amid firing by both sides.

The operation, which lasted 40 hours and was overseen by the country’s top security body, saw marine commandos — MARCOS — being airdropped into the high sea by a C-17 aircraft of the Air Force with their craft.

The operation also saw the use of Sea Guardian drones besides helicopter and stealth-guided missile destroyer INS Kolkata and patrol vessel INS Subhadra of the Navy.The Navy issued a short press statement late Saturday saying INS Kolkata, in the past 40 hours, “through concerted actions successfully cornered and coerced all 35 pirates to surrender and ensured safe evacuation of 17 crew members in the evening today, 16 March, from the pirate vessel without any injury.”

It added that INS Kolkata had carried out the interception of the pirate ship Ruen almost 1,400 nm (2,600km) from the Indian coast, and “forced the pirate ship to stop through calibrated actions, which were augmented by INS Subhadra, HALE (High Altitude Long Endurance) RPA (Remotely Piloted Aircraft), P8I maritime patrol aircraft and MARCOS-PRAHARs air-dropped by C-17 aircraft”. 

Exchange of fire between pirates and the Navy 

Sources in the defence establishment told ThePrint that after the pirates opened fire at naval assets earlier in the day after being intercepted, INS Kolkata had opened aggressive warning fire to show that it meant business.

The sources said that these were warning shots close to the hijacked vessel from the helicopter and the ship and not directly at the pirates, in order to prevent any kind of casualties among the crew on board.

Sources added that the firing by pirates was relayed back to the Navy Headquarters, which gave the captain of INS Kolkata permission to take whatever action was deemed fit to prevent the pirates from escaping, even as they coordinated with the security establishment and the Air Force for a plan of action. 

A call was then made to airdrop multiple marine commandos into the zone of operation to force the arrest of the pirates.

Accordingly, a C-17 aircraft took off from a base in India with marine commandos on board who were air-dropped into the area, while INS Subhadra was also diverted.

MARCOS were airdropped into operational zone

The marines landed on the high seas along with their craft and manoeuvred towards the hijacked ship even as warning shots were fired to dissuade the pirates from taking any action.

 MARCOS in the boat heading towards the ship | By special arrangement
MARCOS in the boat heading towards the ship | By special arrangement

The high-tempo operation saw the pirates dropping their arms and being taken into custody.

Sources said that the pirates and the MV Ruen are expected to be brought back to India. This will be the first time in years that pirates will be brought back to the country to face trial and not allowed to move out.

This is because the pirates opened fire on the Navy, the sources said. However, this was not the first time that the Navy intercepted MV Ruen.

Hijacked merchant vessel tracked since December

The ship was originally hijacked on 14 December last year by the pirates.

The Spanish and Indian navies had then undertaken a coordinated response to what is believed to be the first successful hijacking by Somali pirates since 2017. 

While the ship eventually made it to the Somalian waters, the Navy had managed to evacuate an injured crew member after negotiations with the pirates.

Sources said that the Navy was closely tracking the movement of the hijacked vessel, and when they realised it was back in the international water as a mother ship for the pirates, assets were moved in to interject.

“The entire operation shows the Indian Navy’s ability to continuously track any ship on the high seas and to take coercive defensive and offensive action when needed in a joint environment,” a source told

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