The Indian navy has been engaged in a gun battle with the Mozambican fishing ship, the “Vega 5”, which was seized by Somali pirates on 27 December, and has rescued 13 crew members.
According to a release from the Indian government’s Press Information Bureau, the pirates had turned the “Vega 5” into one of their mother ships, and were using it to launch attacks on shipping in the Arabian Sea. On Friday, Indian anti-piracy vessels received a distress signal from a container ship, the “MV Vancouver Bridge”, which was coming under pirate attack. A Dornier aircraft, in service with the Indian navy, located the “Vega 5”.
On spotting the aircraft, the pirates abandoned their attack, and the “Vega 5” attempted to escape from the area. But Indian aircraft continually tracked the vessel, while two Indian ships, the “Khukri” (a missile corvette) and the “Kalpeni” (a fast attack craft), already involved in anti-piracy patrols, were sent to intercept the “Vega 5”.
On Saturday night, the “Kalpeni” closed in on the “Vega 5”. The pirates launched two skiffs which opened fire on the “Kalpeni”. The Indian vessel returned fire, and a fire then broke out on board the “Vega 5”. The Indian release suggests this was because the additional fuel drums, stored on deck to fuel the skiffs, had been hit.
People on board the stricken “Vega 5”, jumped over board, and the “Kalpeni” and the “Khukri” picked up 74 of them. These were 61 Somali pirates and 13 members of the original “Vega 5” crew. Indian ships and aircraft are still in the area, looking for anyone else from the “Vega 5” still in the water.
The “Vega 5” had a crew of 24 – 19 Mozambicans, three Indonesians and two Spaniards. The Indian release did not give the nationalities of the 13 men rescued, nor did it say how badly damaged the “Vega 5” was. Preliminary investigations by the Indians indicated that the pirates were carrying 80-90 small arms and rifles, and a few heavier weapons (believed to be RPG rocket launchers).
The “Vega 5” was the third pirate mother ship seized by the Indian navy. The other two incidents took place on 28 January and 5 February, and resulted in the arrests of 43 pirates.“The present apprehension of 61 pirates in one incident is the most significant success against the pirates so far”, said the release. “The manner in which firm and resolute actions have been taken by the Indian Navy demonstrates the nation’s determination to strengthen safety of merchant shipping in the international sea lanes in the Arabian Sea with due regard to international humanitarian law, even when dealing with a group of hardened pirates”.
Mozambican Fisheries Minister Victor Borges told AIM on Monday that the Mozambican embassy in India has been instructed to obtain more information from the Indian authorities. He promised to make this public as soon as it was received.