Somali pirates hijack more vessels, India launches attack

India said it had destroyed a Somali pirate vessel in the Gulf of Aden and other Asian nations mulled sending their own navies to the area on Wednesday as attacks in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes become increasingly brazen.

On Saturday a Saudi-owned tanker carrying $100-million-worth of oil was seized in the Indian Ocean, becoming the biggest-ever ship to be hijacked, despite a large international naval presence in the area, backed by the European Union and Nato.

No ransom has been demanded so far for the Saudi supertanker.

An Indian warship destroyed a Somali pirate vessel in a brief battle late on Tuesday, the navy said. But the attacks continued apace, with a Greek carrier and a Thai fishing vessel becoming the latest to be captured.

South Korea is likely to add its own warships to the international naval operation, an official said on Wednesday. Japan is also considering sending navy vessels, a newspaper report said, but its plan faces the twin obstacles of its pacifist constitution and a divided Parliament. India has already deployed a warship.

”We believe this is a very serious issue, to be confronted jointly by the international community,” Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Kazuo Kodama said in a telephone interview.

South Korean media said the Defence Ministry wanted to send at least one destroyer to the region. If Parliament approves the measure, ships would likely be deployed early next year.

In the past few weeks, Somali pirates have captured a South Korean cargo vessel and held hostage South Korean sailors who were part of the crew of a Japanese ship.

India sent the INS Tabar to the Gulf of Aden last month following complaints from Indian shipping firms about the attacks, which are driving up insurance premiums, forcing ships to take detours and securing massive ransoms for the perpetrators.

Last week commandos based aboard the ship succeeded in thwarting two hijack attempts and escorted the merchant vessels to safety, the navy said.

The Japanese government is considering submitting a Bill next year authorising the dispatch of navy vessels to the area, the Nikkei financial daily said on Wednesday.

A new law would be required to circumvent Japan’s post-war pacifist constitution, which strictly curtails its military activities overseas.

Somali hijackers released a Japanese ship and its 21-member crew in September after a $2-million ransom was paid three months after its capture.

The Japanese navy would be authorised to use force in response to pirate attacks, but would not be permitted to arrest suspects for prosecution in Japan, so they would have to rely on support from other countries, the Nikkei said.

”No decision has been taken yet,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Kazuo Kodama said in a telephone interview. ”The government is now considering what kind of legal framework is appropriate to respond to these serious piracy incidents,” he added.

Japan’s ruling coalition may face a battle to pass any such legislation, due to the domination of Parliament’s upper house by opposition parties. Earlier this year a government official said Japan might send hundreds of troops to Sudan on a de-mining mission, but in the end just two officials were dispatched.

Malaysia is set to pull its one remaining warship out of the area for cost reasons and the Thai navy has no plans to escort its vessels, despite the fact that several Thai nationals and at least one Thai-owned vessel have been captured recently. — Reuters

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Isabel Reynolds
Isabel Reynolds works from [email protected] Politics reporter for Bloomberg in Tokyo. Opinions are my own, Retweets are not endorsements, etc. Isabel Reynolds has over 2283 followers on Twitter.

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