In 40-hr operation, Indian Navy seizes hijacked ship after Somali pirates downed its drone

In projection of India’s growing maritime power, the Indian Navy executed a dramatic mid-sea operation ending a three-month hijacking of a bulk carrier with deployment of its warship INS Kolkata, long-endurance Sea Guardian drones, P-8I surveillance aircraft and airdropping of elite MARCOS commandos from a C-17 plane.

The Navy seized the former Maltese-flagged vessel, rescued 17 hostages and captured 35 armed pirates in the nearly 40-hour operation around 2,600 km from the Indian coast that experts say was the first such successful takeover of a cargo ship from the Somali pirates in the last around seven years.

The Navy said after it confirmed the presence of armed pirates onboard the vessel MV Ruen through a ship-launched drone, the drone was shot down by the pirates on March 15.

As the well-coordinated operation came amid rising concerns over safety of critical sea lanes, the Navy on Sunday asserted that it is resolved to “reinforce” peace and stability in the Indian Ocean and to thwart resurgence of piracy in the region.

It is learnt that Navy Chief Admiral R Hari Kumar minutely monitored the operation.

“I congratulate the Indian Navy and the brave crew onboard the ships and aircraft, including MARCOs, for their determined & decisive actions,” Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said on ‘X’.

Bulgaria’s Foreign Minister Mariya Gabriel expressed gratitude to the Indian Navy for the successful operation to rescue the hijacked vessel and crew members, including seven nationals of her country.

Responding to Gabriel’s post on ‘X’, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said, “That’s what friends are for.”

The merchant vessel Ruen was seized by the Somali pirates on December 14 off the coast of Somalia.

A brief video of the anti-piracy operation ‘Sankalp’ showed the pirates trying to use the hostages as human shields.

In a statement, the Navy said the seaworthiness of MV Ruen is being assessed and the vessel carrying approximately 37,800 tonnes of cargo worth around USD 1 million will be brought safely to India.

“The culmination of the ongoing anti-piracy operation involving pirate ship Ruen in the Southern Indian Ocean Region highlights the commitment of the Indian Navy towards reinforcing peace and stability, and also to thwart the resurgence of piracy in the region,” it said.

The Navy deployed over 10 warships to keep a vigil over the strategic waterways following increasing attacks on cargo vessels in the Red Sea by Iran-backed Houthi militants.

In the midst of rising global concerns over the Houthi attacks, the Indian Ocean saw rising incidents of piracy triggering concerns in many countries.

“INS Kolkata, mission-deployed in the Arabian Sea, through the sustained high tempo of operations lasting over 40 hours, has thwarted the designs of the Somali pirates to hijack ships transiting through the region by intercepting the pirate ship MV Ruen on March 16,” the Navy said.

Sharing some aspects of the operation, the Navy said its warship INS Kolkata intercepted Ruen on Wednesday morning and confirmed the presence of armed pirates through a ship-launched drone.

“In a reckless hostile act, the pirates shot down the drone and fired at the Indian Naval warship,” it said, adding INS Kolkata disabled the vessel’s steering system and navigational aids, forcing it to stop sailing.

Following this, the MARCOS commandos seized the vessel, captured the pirates and rescued the crew members of Ruen.

“INS Kolkata undertook precisely measured actions while maintaining her position close to the pirate ship and also engaged in forceful negotiations, which resulted in the pirates surrendering and releasing the pirate ship MV Ruen and its original crew present onboard,” the Navy said.

“The efforts of the Indian Navy in the ongoing anti-piracy operation 1400 nautical miles (2600 km) from mainland India were augmented by the deployment of INS Subhadra in the area (on Saturday), and also by air-dropping of the marine commandos by C-17 aircraft in the same afternoon,” it added.

It said the pirate vessel was kept under surveillance by high-altitude long-endurance (HALE) unmanned aircraft and P8I maritime reconnaissance aircraft.

“Due to sustained pressure and calibrated actions by the Indian Navy over the last 40 hours, all 35 Somali pirates surrendered,” it said.

“All 17 original crew members of MV Ruen were also safely evacuated from the pirate vessel without any injury. The vessel has also been sanitised,” it said.

Separately, the Indian Air Force described the airdropping of the Combat Rubberised Raiding Craft (CRRC) boats and the MARCOS commandos as a “remarkable display” of “jointness” between the two forces.

“In a remarkable display of #Jointness & #Integration, an IAF C-17 aircraft executed a precision Airborne Drop of two Combat Rubberised Raiding Craft (CRRC) boats, along with Indian Navy MARCOS in Arabian Sea in support of ongoing anti piracy Op Sankalp,” the IAF posted on ‘X’.

“Flying for almost 10 hrs to an area 2600 kms off the Indian Coast, the Op was carried out to rescue crew of bulk carrier vessel MV Ruen. The ship was hijacked by Somali pirates near Yemeni island of Socotra recently,” it said.

The Navy said it remains steadfast in performing its role as the ‘First Responder’ in the Indian Ocean Region.