India has deployed at least a dozen warships east of the Red Sea to provide security against pirates and has investigated more than 250 vessels as Western powers focus on attacks by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis, Indian officials said.
India has not joined the US-led task force for the Red Sea and does not have any warships there. But it currently has two frontline warships in the Gulf of Aden and at least 10 warships in the northern and western Arabian Sea, along with surveillance aircraft, the officials said.
This is India’s largest deployment in the region, they said.
Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said India’s growing capability, interests and reputation warranted its help in difficult situations.
“We will not be considered a responsible country when bad things are happening in the surrounding country and we say ‘I have got nothing to do with this’,” he said at a public event on Tuesday.
Other countries have a naval presence in the region, including the United States, France and China, but Indian officials say India’s presence is the largest.
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Indian military and defence officials said that navy personnel, including special commandos, have investigated more than 250 vessels and small boats in the last two months, boarding more than 40, as piracy returns after a six-year absence.
At least 17 incidents of hijacking, attempted hijacking and suspicious approaches had been recorded by the Indian Navy since Dec. 1, they said.
Yemen’s Houthis have since November attacked ships in the Red Sea, part of a route that accounts for about 12% of the world’s shipping traffic, in what they say is an effort to support Palestinians in the war with Israel.
A US-led task force is protecting vessels within the Red Sea and launched attacks across Yemen targeting Houthi forces this month.
But Indian experts said that the conflict is spilling beyond the Red Sea.
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“Houthis and piracy are disconnected. But pirates are trying to use this opportunity as the West’s efforts are focused on the Red Sea,” a navy official said on condition of anonymity.
An Indian Navy spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
The Indian Navy is doing classic police work, Harsh Pant, a foreign policy expert at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation think tank, said.
It rescued two Iranian and helped rescue a Sri Lankan fishing vessels in the first two days of this week. In December, it helped two merchant vessels targeted by aerial strikes close to India’s Exclusive Economic Zone.
Two Indian officials said that Iran-made Shahed 136 drones were used in the December attacks without blaming Tehran, which had immediately dismissed US accusations linking it to those attacks. Jaishankar visited Iran this month and raised the issue of maritime security.
“As a regional security provider, (the Indian Navy) is increasingly showcasing the ability to be able to protect not only its interests but also give confidence to regional players that it is willing and able to shoulder regional responsibility,” Pant said.