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Indian Navy recaptures MV Ruen from Somali pirates, rescues crew in 40-hour operation off Indian coast

The confrontation escalated when the pirates shot down a drone and targeted our ship. Adhering to international maritime laws, we refrained from returning fire; our objective was not to eliminate the pirates but to capture them alive.

  • 5 days ago
  • June 11, 2024
6 min read
The Indian Navy recaptured a ship from Somali pirates off the Indian coast in March 2024. | Photo courtesy of the Indian Navy spokesperson The Indian Navy recaptured a ship from Somali pirates off the Indian coast in March 2024. | Photo courtesy of the Indian Navy spokesperson
Captain Sharad Sinsunwal, commanding officer of INS Kolkata and his crew neutralized and captured Somali pirates in a daring operation on the high seas
JOURNALIST’S NOTES
INTERVIEW SUBJECT
Captain Sharad Sinsunwal, the commanding officer of INS Kolkata, and his crew neutralized and captured Somali pirates in a daring operation on the high seas. Upon receiving a distress call and inputs regarding a piracy incident onboard MV Ruen, Captain Sinsunwal deployed his crew on a mission off the Indian coast to rescue MV Ruen, which had been held captive by Somali pirates for the past three months.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION
The Indian Navy recaptured a ship from Somali pirates off the Indian coast in March of this year. The crew aboard INS Kolkata, commanded by Captain Sharad Sinsunwal, rescued the crew and put an end to a three-month takeover of the bulk carrier MV Ruen. The Indian warship INS Kolkata, through concerted actions spanning 40 hours, successfully coerced all 35 pirates to surrender and ensured the safe evacuation of 17 crew members. This operation brought worldwide recognition to the Indian Armed Forces. INS Kolkata was awarded an ‘On-the-Spot Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) Citation’ this year in a grand ceremony held in Goa, India.

SOCOTRA, Yemen — When Somali pirates seized MV Ruen, a Maltese merchant vessel, 380 nautical miles east of the Yemeni island of Socotra, my crew aboard the INS Kolkata conducted surveillance in the Arabian Sea for more than three months.

It began one day while patrolling in the Indian Ocean. A lead came in about pirates attacking a merchant vessel off the coast of the Arabian Sea. On our warship, we analyzed the surveillance information and began our search. On the morning of March 15, 2024, we intercepted the MV Ruen, confirming the presence of armed pirates using a ship-launched drone. We shifted our focus to a rescue mission to save the crew onboard and capture the pirates. The situation soon escalated.

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MV Ruen’s rescue: Indian Navy’s anti-piracy operation in Arabian Sea against Somali pirates

In the strategic waters of the Indian Ocean, global maritime commerce intersects with the vigilant gaze of the Indian Navy. Here, the sea becomes a stage for both conspicuous and covert operations. While some missions garner public attention, as members of the Indian Navy we do not seek recognition. Rather, we remain committed to the steadfast protection and assistance of marine interests and coastal security. 

The Indian Navy watches the Arabian Sea, a critical area within the Indian Ocean, as part of our Maritime Security Operations. We focus on surveilling maritime traffic and specific zones of interest. One notable focus recently was the MV Ruen, a vessel that Somali pirates seized 380 nautical miles east of Socotra, an island off the coast of Yemen. 

The capture of the MV Ruen by Somali pirates stood out to us. For three months, 35 armed pirates occupied the Malta-flagged merchant vessel, commandeering it using the AL Ashkaan, an Iranian-flagged fishing boat previously hijacked off the coast of Yemen. During this mission, the pirates released an injured Bulgarian sailor to the Indian Navy but took the MV Ruen and its 17 remaining crew members to Puntland, a semi-autonomous region of Somalia, anchoring it near the city of Bosaso. 

Upon locating the MV Ruen, the Indian Navy took calculated and deliberate actions. Positioned near the pirate ship aboard the INS Kolkata, we engaged in assertive negotiations while coordinating support from additional naval forces. That afternoon, Marine Commandos, known as PRAHARS, air-dropped onto the scene from a C-17 aircraft to conduct the operation smoothly.

Pirates launch assaults, shoot down navy drone, and target ship

During this high-stakes encounter at sea, our naval vessel sought to safeguard the merchant ship, laden with approximately 37,800 tons of cargo, valued at around one million dollars. As we approached the pirates, they initiated a fierce assault, wielding automatic weapons and grappling hooks. Despite the onslaught, my crew remained undeterred, maintaining a state of readiness with distress signals and sirens, ready to repel the pirates with force if necessary. 

The confrontation escalated when the pirates shot down a drone and targeted our ship. Adhering to international maritime laws, we refrained from returning fire; our objective was not to eliminate the pirates but to capture them alive. Outgunned but not outmaneuvered, we leveraged our tactical expertise to gain the advantage and neutralize the threat. 

The crew onboard INS Kolkata commanded by Captain Sharad Sinsunwal, rescued the crew and ended a three-month takeover of the bulk carrier MV Ruen. | Photo courtesy of Spokesperson Navy

In response to the relentless pirate fire, we executed a strategic maneuver to disable their ship’s steering and navigation systems, bringing them to a halt. We acted measuredly, employing the least amount of force required to mitigate the danger to both the shipping lanes and the seafarers. 

As the hours passed, we realized that capture was inevitable. Our priority was to apprehend the pirates without lethal force and prevent any possibility of escape. Anticipating their potential dive into the sea to evade capture, we positioned our elite MARCOS divers to intercept and secure them, ensuring that none slipped away. However, the pirates’ barrage persisted until our support team secured their boat.

Indian Navy’s 40-hour operation rescues MV Ruen crew, captures 35 Somali pirates 

The Navy conducted continuous and calibrated actions over 40 hours, resulting in no injuries to either the pirates or the crew members of the hijacked ship MV Ruen. Finally, on March 24, 2024, the INS Kolkata, successfully pressured the pirate vessel, causing all 35 Somali pirates to surrender.

After the pirates surrendered, the Navy safely evacuated the original crew members. Surveillance by HALE RPA and P81 maritime reconnaissance aircraft ensured the absence of illegal arms, ammunition, or contraband. The specialist crew from INS Kolkata then boarded MV Ruen, conducted extensive sanitization and seaworthiness inspections, and ensured the vessel’s safety before guiding it to a secure location to resume regular operations. 

The Navy rescued 17 crew members from Myanmar, Bulgaria, and Angola. Under India’s anti-piracy laws, the pirates could face severe penalties, including the death sentence, for killing or attempted killing, and life imprisonment for piracy. 

Navy hands over captured pirates to Mumbai Police for trial 

The Navy brought the 35 Somali pirates to Mumbai, India, to stand trial, marking the first time in over a decade that pirates captured at sea faced legal proceedings on Indian shores. Pirates, essentially maritime thieves, often differ from militants or terrorists. Many were once simple fishermen who, due to various political factors, resorted to hijacking commercial ships for livelihood. 

Historically, pirate attacks off the Somali coast peaked in 2011, with incidents occurring as far as 3,655 kilometers from the Somali coast in the Indian Ocean. Somali pirates typically aim to capture a ‘mother ship’—a motorized dhow or fishing trawler capable of sailing long distances to target larger merchant vessels. However, these attacks have sharply decreased in recent years. Despite this, cargo ships remain vulnerable, especially since the Houthi attacks. The problem is the pirates have to slow down on these ships to receive instructions on navigating the Red Sea. 

Amid the looming danger, the Indian Navy is steadfast in its commitment to maritime security and the safety of seafarers, irrespective of nationality. Nevertheless, the Indian Navy’s approach to piracy has evolved. While previously the Navy prosecuted and jailed pirates in India, the current strategy involves recapturing vessels, rescuing crew members, and leaving disarmed pirates at sea.  

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