Exactly two months ago on this date, the Western Naval Command (WNC) of the Indian Navy announced the ‘capture’ of an Iranian-flagged ship, the MV Nafis – 1. She, the WNC in its press note said, was a ‘hijacked’ ship and at 170nm west of Mumbai, the Indian Naval Ship (INS) Mysore decided to end the pirates’ party. Apart from piracy, it was also informed that the vessel was probably being used for smuggling of arms and other contraband items.
Coming as it did on the heels of the unnoticed arrival of the MT Pavit onto the Mumbai coast, this successful interception did good to the image and morale of our men guarding the marine frontiers. Even the Chief of Naval Staff, Admiral Nirmal Kumar Verma remarked so at the commissioning ceremony of the frigate, INS Satpura held in Mumbai on August 20, 2011.
Having moved on, the WNC does not wish to discuss the case anymore.
This, more than anyone else, hits the nine men (5 Yemeni nationals, 2 Tanzanians, a Kenyan and a Somalian) who have been forced to live on the generosity of the local police, on the unused first floor of a police station in the Porbandar town. For they were serving on board the Nafis – 1 when she was apprehended and towed to the coastal district of Gujarat.
These nine men have till date no case/FIR filed against them. They are not behind a lock-up. The police got in touch with the respective embassies to verify the antecedents, but the two month-long search is yet to reveal anything against them. It is now understood that the ground is being laid for their re-patriation – a process which requires the Navy’s consent.
‘We wanted help, not jail’
When this author visited Porbandar to know more about these men, the story that emerged was at variance from what was earlier known. The crew agreed that they had made the SOS call. But, that was to inform about their engine woes and NOT hijacking! They further revealed how they were adrift for days before the INS Mysore picked them up. In their enthusiasm, they went a step further and said they were squabbling within but at no point were they hijacked.
Of course, to believe them entirely would be a mistake.
‘No information of Nafis being pirated’
According to the informal information provided by the local police, these men have been ‘cleared’ by all agencies concerned. The Superintendent of Police, Porbandar, Deepan Bhadran stated, “We are yet to find anything which suggests that the ship was hijacked or there were pirates on board. We have recorded the statements of the crew and are in touch with their respective embassies.”
Further, when answers to queries made in response to the Western Naval Command’s press note on the subject were not coming in, a query was raised with the European Union’s Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) headquartered in Dubai. The agency, by the way of its nature of deployment claims to be very widely spread out in the affected areas of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and the Arabian Sea.
The query was raised on August 18, 2011. After reminders, the reply came on August 23. Spokesperson for EU NAVFOR, Commander Harrie Harrison of the Royal Navy replied, “Apologies for the delay in replying but I have been investigating. We have no more detail that is available in open sources which indicate that the ship sailed from Iran, was tracked by the US, handed-over to the Indian Navy who boarded at sea. I can find no mention of the ship being ‘pirated’.”
Questions which emerge
- If even after two months of investigation, there is nothing to book these men, then what did the Western Naval Command (WNC) have in hand to pronounce what it did in its press note of August 15?
- Why is it that after the press note, the Western Naval Command has failed to respond to any questions asked on the subject?
- What stopped the WNC to even informally explain the position, when repeated queries were submitted to the spokesperson’s office?
- It is reliably learnt that while briefing the agencies like police, customs in Porbandar on this case, the WNC did not even mention anything on piracy even as its press note claimed otherwise. Was it a case of going overboard despite evidence not being present?
- Why and how did a Search & Rescue (SAR) mission turn into an Anti Piracy mission?
- Why were Somalian pirates, who were nabbed as far as west of Lakshadweep island sailed all the way to Yellowgate police station in Mumbai but these ‘pirates’ taken to Porbandar, even though they were apprehended merely 170nm off Mumbai?
In the last two months that these queries were raised and addressed, the WNC has chosen to not offer any answer.
‘Setting a bad precedent’
Manoy Joy, who runs the Sailors Helpline, said, “If there are no charges till date against these men then what are we doing with them! Such an approach will not help the case of Indian seafarers who get into trouble abroad.” He added, “We must remember the reality that a lot of our men are working on ships which are not totally clean. What if countries simply start detaining our men without any charge? It has been two months, there was enough time to verify the antecedents of these men. What are we achieving by just keeping them?”
Please watch a report filed in early September on this subject:
Version of the WNC, as per the press note released at 0854hrs on August 15, 2011:
PRESS INFORMATION BUREAU (DEFENCE WING)
GOVERNMENT OF INDIA
INDIAN NAVY SEIZES MV NAFIS-1
The Indian Navy successfully captured a hijacked vessel Nafis-1, approximately 170 nm west of Mumbai on 14 Aug 11. The Iranian-flagged vessel had been located by the Navy’s Maritime Reconnaissance aircraft on 12 Aug 11, which thereafter kept it under continuous surveillance, whilst ensuring that the pirates on board were unable to cause any harm to other vessels passing by. Meanwhile, INS Mysore, a guided missile destroyer was sailed with dispatch to intercept the vessel, with two helicopters, as well as 24 of the Navy’s elite Marine Commandos, embarked.
MV Nafis-1 had reportedly sailed from Chah Bahar in Iran to an undisclosed location in July. Intelligence received by the Indian Navy had indicated that the vessel could have been employed for smuggling or other nefarious activities. There were also inputs to suggest that the vessel was likely to be carrying arms and ammunition, as well as other contraband.
INS Mysore arrived in the vicinity of MV Nafis-I on the morning of 13 Aug and initially shadowed the vessel in order to carry out a full assessment of her threat potential. Concurrently, the matter was deliberated at the highest level, and a decision to carry out interdiction of the vessel was made on 14 Aug 11. Despite adverse weather conditions and rough seas, with wave heights of the order of 4 to 5 metres, INS Mysore launched a swift and coordinated operation to force the hijackers to surrender and leave their ship using the ship’s boats. The hijackers were unable to pose any resistance and were recovered on board Mysore. Thereafter, the MARCOS swiftly embarked the vessel by slithering operations conducted from the ship’s Chetak and Seaking 42 C helicopters.
The MARCOS carried out a thorough investigation of all the compartments of the vessel and found two AK-47 rifles and a pistol concealed in an empty fuel tank.
Meanwhile, the crew of the vessel, after being subjected to an intense interrogation by Mysore, has been put under close custody in a secure compartment. INS Mysore has started towing Nafis-1 to Porbandar, where the crew and ship will be handed over the local police and other investigating agencies for carrying out further interrogation.