NEW DELHI // The pirate "mother ship" sunk last week by the Indian navy was actually a Thai fishing trawler seized hours earlier by pirates, a maritime agency said today, but the Indian navy defended its actions, saying it fired in self defence. Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting centre in Kuala Lumpur, said one Thai crew member died when the Indian frigate INS Tabar fired on the boat in the Gulf of Aden on Nov 18.
Fourteen others are missing while a Cambodian sailor was rescued four days later by passing fishermen, he said. The maritime bureau received a report on the apparent mistake late yesterday from the Bangkok-based Sirichai Fisheries, which owned the trawler, the Ekawat Nava5, he said. "The Indian navy assumed it was a pirate vessel because they may have seen armed pirates on board the boat which has been hijacked earlier," Mr Choong said.
India's navy said last week that the INS Tabar, which began patrolling the gulf on Nov 2, battled a pirate "mother ship" on Nov 18, setting the ship ablaze. In New Delhi, the Indian navy spokesman Commander Nirad Sinha said today that the INS Tabor was responding to threats from pirates on board the ship to attack. "Insofar as we are concerned, both its description and its intent were that of a pirate ship," he said. "Only after we were fired upon did we fire. We fired in self defence. There were gun-toting guys with RPGs on it."
Sirichai Fisheries found out about the mishap after speaking to the Cambodian sailor, who is now recuperating in a hospital in Yemen, said Wicharn Sirichaiekawat, the company's managing director. The trawler was headed from Oman to Yemen to deliver fishing equipment when it was hijacked. "We are saddened with what has happened. It's an unfortunate tragedy. We hope that this incident won't affect the anti-piracy operation by the multi-coalition navies there," Mr Choong added.
Mr Sirichaiekawat said his company had contacted the International Maritime Bureau after getting messages from other boats in the region that the Ekawat Nava5 had come under pirate attack. The boat was outfitted with a transmitter sending out its location, which indicated the boat was headed toward the coast of Somalia, he said. Sirichai Fisheries asked if any naval ships were in the area to help their stricken boat. The British navy responded, asking for information, but later told the company that pirates had already boarded the ship and any sort of attack on them could cause the crew to be harmed.
"The British navy instructed us to wait until the pirates contacted us," he said. Meanwhile, the International Maritime Bureau alerted the multi-coalition forces patrolling the region and other military agencies in the area, sending them photos of the vessel, Mr Choong said. However, it was unclear if the Indian navy had received the information because it has no direct communication links to the maritime bureau, he said.