'We are scared': Deadly Houthi missile attack on ship sparks fear among Indian sailors

Seafarers considering quitting their jobs due to risks after attack near Red Sea killed three crew members

Ram Kumar, a chief marine engineer with a Chennai-based shipping company, is contemplating quitting after a spate of Houthi attacks in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. Photo: Ram Kumar
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Indian sailors say they are scared to continue with their jobs amid increasingly dangerous attacks on commercial ships in and around the Red Sea.

Three people were killed and at least four wounded in a Houthimissile attack on a Barbados-flagged, Liberian-owned vessel in the Gulf of Aden off the coast of Yemen on Wednesday.

The three sailors were the first civilian casualties in the rebel group's campaign against commercial shipping since it started attacking vessels in response to Israel’s deadly military campaign in Gaza.

The Indian Navy swiftly responded to the attack on Wednesday and rescued nearly two dozen crew members, including one Indian citizen, from life rafts using a helicopter and boats.

The incident has sparked fears among Indian sailors who have to sail through the Red Sea.

“We are worried about these attacks. We are scared," said Ramalingam Elaiyaraja, who works as a crew member on cargo ships.

"The war is between two countries. They should not attack people from a third country. They should not kill people from other countries,” he told The National.

The 47-year-old seafarer from Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu has been working for two decades in the industry but the recent incidents have left him concerned about his security.

“We are never told officially about where we are going next. We only know when we board the vessel. No one tells us that the vessel will go through the Red Sea. What can we do? We work even if we are scared.”

“We are trained to deal with pirates but not drones or missiles,” Mr Elaiyaraja said.

Ram Kumar, a chief marine engineer with a Chennai-based shipping company, has a similar view.

“These attacks are by using missiles and drones,” Mr Kumar told The National. "Everything happens in the flash of a second. Traditionally, ships are not equipped to handle such attacks."

Mr Kumar, a sailor for two decades, has experienced attacks by Somali pirates who wanted money in the past but the Houthi missile attacks are different and more dangerous, he said.

“With these attacks, the Houthis want destruction,” he added.

“Two decades ago, we had similar attacks in the Red Sea from Somali pirates. Ships used to carry trained armed guards. They wanted money from us. Now we are in a very difficult phase.

“Even the mightiest of armies and navies cannot handle these drones. We have a lot of flammable material in the ships – we don’t have trained medical professionals to deal with such a crisis."

In January, Mr Kumar returned from six months at sea, during which he travelled through the Red Sea to Europe. He said the attacks have made him contemplate quitting his job.

“My parents are scared, I am worried about my safety and security. I am thinking about quitting because of the threat and security issues,” he said.

Indian Navy in dramatic sea rescue of True Confidence crew

Indian Navy in dramatic sea rescue of True Confidence crew

Dr A Babu Mailan, chairman of the Indian Seafarers' Welfare Organisation, has urged his government to provide military assistance to ships with Indian crew and sailors in the region while the war in Gaza continues.

“Attacks in the Red Sea are worrying,” Dr Mailan said. "The welfare of sailors is affected. If the sailors don't work, global trade will stop. The sailors' welfare needs to be considered.

“They provide various assistance to many developing countries, help with economic capacity-building, strengthening supply chains and overcoming the credit crisis. Sailors have helped other countries through ships.”

“We urge the government to provide military assistance to the sailors in the area, especially when they cross the Red Sea region."

Updated: March 08, 2024, 4:49 AM