The merchant ship had nine Indians among its 22 crew members onboard
New Delhi: The Indian Navy's warship INS Visakhapatnam, deployed in the Gulf of Aden to hunt down pirates, responded swiftly to a distress call by Marshall Island-flagged merchant ship MV Genco Picardy, which came under a drone attack on Wednesday midnight. The merchant ship had nine Indians among its 22 crew members onboard.
The bulk carrier was going from Safaga port in the Red Sea, in Egypt, towards Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu, as per maritime traffic tracking portals. As per these websites, the merchant vessel was in Mumbai port last month.
The US military's Central Command said on Thursday that a drone launched from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen struck MV Genco Picardy in the Gulf of Aden. It said that the vessel is owned and operated by a US company.
The vessel, which is reportedly carrying phosphate, suffered some damage, but there were no injuries due to the attack.
Last month, another India-bound merchant vessel MV Chem Pluto was attacked by a drone around 220 nautical miles south-west of Porbandar, Gujarat.
The Yemen-based Houthi rebels have been attacking commercial shipping with drones and missiles in the Arabian Sea and the Red Sea in support of the Palestinians.
The guided missile destroyer INS Visakhapatnam acknowledged the distress call by MV Genco Picardy and reached within an hour to help the vessel.
The Indian Navy's EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) specialists boarded the vessel early on Thursday morning. MV Genco Picardy reported zero casualties and fire under control.
"The EOD specialists, after a thorough inspection, have rendered the area safe for further transit. The vessel is proceeding to the next port of call," said the Indian Navy.
The strike on the cargo vessel MV Genco Picardy around 60 nautical miles south of Port Aden came amid increasing global concerns over attacks on merchant ships in the Red Sea and Arabian Sea. The Indian Navy has already deployed around a dozen warships in the Arabian Sea to deal with pirates and drone attacks.
Chief of Naval Staff Admiral R. Hari Kumar said on Thursday that the Indian Navy has its assets deployed along the western coast to protect India's maritime interests and will not allow any "instability".
"We are deployed to ensure that our national interest in the maritime domain is protected. We have our own deployments. We have two ongoing anti-piracy operations there and anti-drone support for merchant shipping," the Navy Chief said.
He said that the job of the Navy is to ensure that we preserve, protect and pursue our national interest in the maritime domain.
"Operation Sankalp is happening close to the Gulf of Aden and the Gulf of Oman. We had witnessed that till last year, piracy had reduced almost to zero. But subsequently, we saw a resurgence... We have deployed an adequate number of assets. We are not going to allow any piracy to happen," Adm. Kumar said.
The Navy Chief added that no attacks have happened on Indian merchant ships. "Whatever disturbance is happening, there has been no attack on any Indian-flagged merchant vessel. Last time they attempted a piracy attack on a ship with a high number of Indian crew, our assets were deployed immediately, (and) we responded," the Adm. said.
"Our message is that we are not going to permit any instability or insecurity to happen," he added.
Earlier this month, the Indian Navy had foiled the attempted hijacking of the Liberian-flagged vessel MV Lila Norfolk and rescued all its crew members.
New agency, TASS, reported that Houthis from Yemen's rebel Ansar Allah movement acknowledged attacking the US ship Genco Picardy in the Gulf of Aden.
"The Yemeni naval forces conducted an operation during which the US Genco Picardy ship was attacked with several anti-ship missiles in the Gulf of Aden," movement’s military spokesperson Yahya Area told the Houthi-controlled television channels.
According to the spokesman, the attack was staged in response to the US and UK strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen.
"At approximately 8.30 pm (Sanaa time) on January 17, an assessed one-way attack UAS was launched from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen and struck MV Genco Picardy in the Gulf of Aden," said the US Central Command on Thursday, adding that its forces on Wednesday conducted strikes on 14 Iran-backed Houthi missiles that were loaded to be fired in Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen.
“The actions by the Iranian-backed Houthi terrorists continue to endanger international mariners and disrupt the commercial shipping lanes in the southern Red Sea and adjacent waterways,” said Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla, US CENTCOM Commander.
"We will continue to take actions to protect the lives of innocent mariners and we will always protect our people," he added.