INDIAN NAVY ALWAYS ROSE TO OCCASION IN COUNTRIES AT SEA

by Editorial

For 70 years, the United Nations’ peacekeeping operations have stood as a beacon of multilateralism and international solidarity, the embodiment of the highest ideals of the UN. From Sierra Leone to Cambodia, Timor Leste, Namibia, El Salvador and elsewhere, UN peacekeeping has helped countries move from war to peace, proving to be one of the international community’s most effective investments in peace, security, and prosperity. India’s participation in this remarkable enterprise is perhaps without parallel.

India has been and remains one of the largest contributors of troops to UN peacekeeping missions, with more than 2,00,000 personnel deployed in operations since 1950, the most of any country. This is an incredible demonstration of India’s deep commitment not only to maintaining peace and harmony across the world but also of its belief in the UN Charter.

Indian peacekeepers have been deployed in some of the UN’s most dangerous and challenging missions—in South Sudan, Congo, Somalia, Central African Republic and ten other UN missions across the globe. As the demand for UN peacekeepers has risen steadily, India has responded to the call for service, reaffirming the strength of its relationship with the UN. As of June 2018, India was the third largest troop contributor in the world, with over 6,000 personnel stationed around the world, helping save lives, protect people and setting the stage for a lasting peace.

PEACE OPERATIONS AT SEA

India had till the early 1990s, provided an infantry battalion, military observers and a field ambulance unit in UN peacekeeping operations. These included ONUCA (Central America) in 1990-92, ONUSAL (El Salvador) in 1991 and UNOMIL (Liberia) in 1994. Indian Navy in a period of maritime resurgence progressed operations for good order at sea in four types of naval operations — Humanitarian, Low Intensity Conflict (LIC) operations against illegal and undesirable elements, Anti-Piracy and Deterrent.

It is in Somalia that the Indian Navy took an active part in the United Nations Operations in Somalia (UNOSOM) II, 1993-94. India contributed 5,000 personnel from all ranks and four Indian navy warships. Indian naval ships and personnel were involved in patrolling duties off the Somali coast, in humanitarian assistance onshore, and also in the transportation of men and material for the United Nations. They successfully combined the often conflicting roles of coercive disarmament and humanitarian relief to the civilian population. Indian personnel displayed considerable resilience in facing dangerous conditions in these missions. India was one of the few troop-contributing nations to maintain its original presence until the end of that operation, even resisting domestic political pressure to withdraw its troops.

Operation Muffet: The Somalia operation between December 1992 and December 1994 was the Indian Navy’s first ever overseas deployment in support of United Nations Humanitarian Relief Operations. Late Vice Admiral GM Hiranandani (Retd) narrated that a task force was formed comprising three ships, which was dispatched to Somalia. IN Ships Deepak, Kuthar and Cheetah constituted the task group and was commanded by Commodore Sampath Pillai who was designated as Commodore Indian Naval Forces (COMINF).

Operation Restore Hope: A Task Force comprising IN Guided Missile Corvette, LST and Tanker was immediately deployed off Somalia once the US led coalition force launched ‘Operation Restore Hope’ in Dec 92. This joint operation of the Indian Armed Forces as part of UN peacekeeping mission in the civil war-ravaged Somalia continued to be backed up by one IN warship on constant surveillance and patrol task off the Somalia coast along with the warships of multinational forces till Oct 93. The Indian Navy spent a total of 347 ship days maintaining vigil along the Somali coast and ports during 1992-93. The last remaining units of the Indian contingent were repatriated from Somalia on board Indian naval ships from Kismayo port. India demonstrated its capacity to provide an integrated force, comprising land and naval forces as well as air support.

Additionally, major maritime nations have supported and contributed to the United Nations peacekeeping efforts. They have contributed ships and personnel to support the maritime portion of the blockade in support of UN mandated sanctions against Iraq and Maritime Interdiction Operations in Afghanistan through the 1990s and beyond. Those maritime forces operations, sanctioned or supported by the United Nations, clearly identify the growing demand for, and renewed role of, maritime forces in conducting a myriad of peacekeeping operations in areas where land conflicts have been extended to adjacent waters.

INDIA’S ROLE IN SOMALIA

The scourge of piracy off Somalia posed a serious problem for safety of maritime traffic and the limited authority of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Somalia became news of maritime concern by mid-2008. UNSC Resolution 1846 of 02 Dec 08 welcomed the initiatives of international navies (including India) for their pro-activeness in combating piracy and undertaking convoying operations. This resolution also authorised concerned naval forces to enter the Somalian territorial waters for repressing piracy and armed robbery at sea.

The scourge of piracy off Somalia posed a serious problem for safety of maritime traffic and the limited authority of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Somalia became news of maritime concern by mid-2008. UNSC Resolution 1846 of 02 Dec 08 welcomed the initiatives of international navies (including India) for their pro-activeness in combating piracy and undertaking convoying operations. This resolution also authorised concerned naval forces to enter the Somalian territorial waters for repressing piracy and armed robbery at sea.

India deployed its naval assets under the UNSC mandate. Two interventions by the Indian Navy exemplify the naval role in peace and good order at sea. In the first ever deterrent action against Somali pirates undertaken by the navy of any country, INS Tabar destroyed a pirate ‘mother ship’ on 11 November 2008 285 nautical miles south west of Salalah Oman. The warship closed the vessel and asked her to stop for investigation. On repeated calls, the vessel’s threatening response was that she would blow up the warship if it closed her. Pirates were seen roaming on the upper deck of this vessel with guns and Rocket Propelled Grenade launchers. The vessel continued its threatening calls and subsequently fired upon INS Tabar and the warship retaliated, opening fire on the mother ship. After a fire and explosion due to stowed ammunition catching fire, the mother vessel sank. INS Tabar on the same day prevented hijacking an attempt on a Saudi Arabian flagged merchant vessel also. In another direct action on 28 May 2009, INS Talwar was escorting the MV Maud, a Liberia-registered cargo ship with two other merchant vessels, Southern Independence and Arames, along the north of the Horn of Africa.

The Maud sent a distress call around 12.50 in the afternoon. Its Indian captain reported sighting a skiff with eight armed men approaching the vessel at great speed. In response, INS Talwar, advised the Maud to increase speed and execute a sharp right turn in an evasive manoeuvre to avoid getting boarded. INS Talwar’s helicopter was launched with marine commandos embarked. The commandos sighted two men from the skiff attempting to board the vessel from the bow. They fired warning shots to deter the pirates.  The pirates were observed to disengage from the merchant ship. However, two pirates who were in the process of climbing the vessel fell into the water. A boarding party from the warship, thereafter, boarded the skiff and confiscated various weapons as well as equipment used by the pirates.

Approximately $110 billion of international trade passes through the erstwhile piracy infested waters off Somalia. India contributes around 7% of the world’s merchant mariners and thus has an abiding interest in their safety and security. In the UN and other multilateral forays, India has urged greater international cooperation in anti-piracy efforts, including welfare of the hostages. It was at India’s specific instance that the UN Security Council, vide resolution 1976 of April 11, 2011, for the first time strongly condemned the growing practice of hostage-taking by pirates operating off the coast of Somalia. India is a founder-member of the ‘Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia’ (CGPCS), established on 14 January 2009 pursuant to United Nations Security Council resolution 1851 (2008), is a voluntary, ad hoc international forum of approximately 70 countries, organizations and industry groups with a common interest in combating piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, and to facilitate the discussion and coordination of actions among  states and organisations to suppress piracy.

Typifying its commitment to use of naval resources to ensure good order at sea, Indian Navy has been fully engaged for a dozen years to stay engaged in the region. As a founding member of the CGPCS, India has actively contributed to the international efforts to combat maritime piracy Containment of the same off the coast of Somalia is an example of successful international collaboration of the UN and India in the area of maritime security.

CONCLUSION

Peacekeeping Operations (PKOs) have become one of the UN’s most important means of preserving peace and international security. Some of the greatest threats to international peace and security do not occur on ‘UN Member States territory’, but at sea. The internationally significant and long-standing phenomenon of maritime piracy initially led to international action off the coast of Somalia, but other regions affected by criminal acts at sea are reinforcing the need for international action.

The UN is likely to continue to conduct Traditional Peacekeeping operations and its most successful type of peacekeeping operation—Managing Transition—in cases where political settlements have been reached and outside assistance has been requested. However, the UN is likely to delegate significant military tasks to regional organisations and alliances in future. In such cases the UN will form only one pillar of a broader operation rather than enjoying overall control. India has played a detrimental and significant role with its constructive participation in International Peacekeeping by bolstering the anti – piracy operations at the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia. As reported in 2018 by Indian Navy, having escorted over 3,000 merchant marines during patrolling, not a single ship under the escort of Indian Navy since 2008 has been hijacked by the pirates. With proper naval systems, surveillance and maritime domain awareness India Navy had played a commendable job in Peacekeeping operations carried out at International Seas.

The ability to shape India’s maritime security environment requires the development of a credible naval presence with adequate assets commensurate with our defence and security interests as well as those required to discharge the role and responsibility expected of India by the international community like the UN. As a diplomatic instrument, the Navy has key attributes—access, mobility, reach and versatility. We need to embed these attributes within the larger vision of India›s role in the global arena. A flexible but proactive maritime international presence is essential to safeguard and project our national interests overseas.

India and [email protected] is a time to heed the international call to bring humane order and well-being through UN mandated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Yet, in light of continued threats to good order at sea, India and its Navy must remain mission deployed in a collaborative maritime synergy to see that the sea lanes remain open for the arteries of maritime connectivity and trade.

Commodore Odakkal Johnson is the Director and Head of Research at Maritime History Society, an academic initiative of Western Naval Command of Indian Navy.

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