India sends out ships and planes to protect Red Sea shipping after drone attack

Defence Minister says Indian government is taking attacks on shipping 'very seriously'

The Indian Navy's third stealth-guided missile destroyer was commissioned by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday. AFP
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India has deployed warships and reconnaissance planes to deter further attacks after a chemical tanker was hit by a drone about 400km off its west coast on Saturday.

The US military said the attack, which came amid drone and missile attacks on vessels in the Red Sea by Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi rebels, was launched from Iran. The attack caused a fire on board but there were no casualties.

The Indian Navy said it had sent out three guided-missile destroyers to maintain a deterrent presence and was using long-range P8I maritime reconnaissance aircraft to patrol the waters off its western coast.

The MV Chem Pluto, a Liberia-flagged, Japanese-owned, and Netherlands-operated tanker, was hit en route from Saudi Arabia to India's New Mangalore port the Indian Coast Guard said.

Another ship reportedly bound for India, the MV Sai Baba crude oil tanker, was also hit by a drone on Saturday as it sailed through the southern Red Sea. The US military's Central Command said the drone was launched by Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said on Tuesday that the government has taken the attacks “very seriously”.

“The Indian Navy has increased surveillance on the sea. Whoever has carried out this attack, we will find them even if it is from the sea bed,” Mr Singh said. “Those behind these attacks will be brought to justice.”

The attacks in the Red Sea prompted the formation of a US-led coalition to counter the threat. Many shipping companies have opted to divert their vessels to safer but longer routes, raising fears of an effect on global supply chains and the trade flows of major economies.

Somali pirates last week seized two vessels after a lull of about six years. The Indian Navy said it sent an antipiracy patrol ship and aircraft to locate and assist one of the vessels, the MV Ruen. It also deployed another guided missile destroyer to the Gulf of Aden.

India's naval ships and patrol aircraft are routinely deployed for antipiracy and maritime security operations in the northern Arabian Sea, Gulf of Aden, and the western Indian Ocean, along with warships from other nations including the US and China.

Rahul Bhonsle, director of Security Risks Asia, said drone attacks posed a greater problem than piracy.

“The challenge from the Somali pirates can be well-contained because international antipiracy measures are ongoing and India is very active in that,” he told The National.

“The problem comes with drone attacks as merchant ships don’t have defence cover.” This has to be tackled at the source – the Houthi rebels – through co-ordinated diplomatic and military efforts, Mr Bhonsle said.

“India has now deployed four warships to provide air defence cover and is likely to deploy more if required, and co-ordinate with other navies to ensure commercial and energy shipping is unhindered,’’ he said.

Updated: December 26, 2023, 1:29 PM