Trouble on India’s high seasBy Asia Sentinel Oct 22, 2013 11:49AM UTC
Authorities catch a suspicious anti-piracy vessel, writes Asia Sentinel’s Neeta Lal
The intrusion into Indian waters of the anti-pirate vessel MV Seaman Guard Ohio has angered Indian authorities who are already steaming over the February, 2012 shooting by Italians guarding an oil tanker of two apparently innocent fishermen.
The Seaman Guard Ohio, owned by a US security firm called AdvanFort, was stopped by the Indian Coast Guard off southern Tamil Nadu last week, which found it bristling with weapons and an international cast of elite former military personnel. Although though the ship’s real intent in wading into Indian waters is ambiguous and under investigation by the authorities, AdvanFort’s spokesman in Virginia, told Asia Sentinel that the vessel was “forced into the 12-mile zone by a typhoon.”
However, the Indian establishment isn’t convinced. “The simple explanation that the vessel was providing security to other merchant vessels from pirates cannot be taken at face value,” Vice Admiral (retd.) K N Sushil, former Commander-in-Chief of the Southern Naval Command said in a media interview.
“Who authorized them? What are the conditionalities involved? Who pays them? What is the right of passage for the vessel to enter Indian territorial waters? Who sanctioned them the right to operate with armed guards? If no countries have issued such a sanction, they themselves should be treated as pirates,” Sushil said.
With just a month remaining before the anniversary of the November massacre when Pakistani militants laid siege to India’s commercial capital of Mumbai, killing 200 people, seizure of the heavily armed vessel in Indian waters has raised alarm bells. Also, with the legal status of floating armories of this kind being unclear, the issue has created a buzz in the corridors of powers in New Delhi.
“In this election year,” said defense analyst Vikramjeet Singh, “the ruling dispensation would like to get to the bottom of the matter ASAP. It can’t afford to provide the Opposition a stick to beat it with on such a sensitive matter.”
India is increasingly sensitive to violations of its maritime boundaries and directly supports the multi-national campaign to combat Somali pirates targeting ships in the Indian Ocean with its own navy. But it has been controversial too given the embroilment of India and Italy in the diplomatic row over the deaths of the two fishermen.
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