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Huthi Drone Attacks: Indian and US Navy Step up Vigil in Arabian Sea

Huthi Drone Attacks: Indian and US Navy Step up Vigil in Arabian Sea

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Manas Dasgupta

NEW DELHI, Dec 31: The Indian Navy has stepped up surveillance in the north and central Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden following frequent security incidents on merchant vessels sailing through international shipping lanes.

Naval task groups comprising destroyers and frigates have been deployed to undertake maritime security operations and help merchant vessels in case of any incident, the navy said in a statement on Sunday. The navy said it was also working closely with the Coast Guard to check new security risks in the Indian Ocean.

The United States shot down two missiles headed toward a container ship in the southern Red Sea and launched from Huthi-controlled areas of Yemen on Saturday, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said. A Singapore-flagged, Denmark-owned/operated container ship reported that it was struck by a missile and the USS Gravely and USS Laboon responded to the ship, CENTCOM said in a post on X.

In its statement, the Navy said: “Task Groups comprising destroyers and frigates have been deployed to undertake maritime security operations and render assistance to merchant vessels in case of any incident. Aerial surveillance by long-range maritime patrol aircraft and RPAs has been enhanced to have a complete maritime domain awareness. Towards effective surveillance of EEZ, Indian Navy is operating in close coordination with Coast Guard.”

The Indian Navy’s move comes days after a merchant vessel, MV Chem Pluto, was struck by a drone 400 km off the Indian coastline. The ship with 21 crew members – 20 Indians and a Vietnamese – arrived at the Mumbai port under the protection of Coast Guard ship Vikram on December 26, two days after it was struck in the Arabian Sea.

“The last few weeks have seen increased maritime security incidents on merchant vessels transiting through international shipping lanes in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and central/north Arabian Sea,” the navy said in the statement.

“The piracy incident on MV Ruen, approximately 700 nautical miles from the Indian coast, and the recent drone attack on MV Chem Pluto, approximately 220 nautical miles southwest of Porbandar, indicates a shift in maritime incidents closer to Indian EEZ (exclusive economic zone),” the navy said.

Apart from destroyers and frigates, the navy has deployed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and maritime patrol aircraft. Long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft P8Is are being regularly tasked to maintain domain awareness.

The attack on MV Chem Pluto amid a flurry of new drone and missile attacks by Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels on the vital Red Sea shipping lane since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7, with the group claiming to act in solidarity with Gaza. The Pentagon claimed the tanker ship was targeted by a drone “fired from Iran.” It was the first time the Pentagon openly accused Iran of directly targeting ships since the start of Israel’s war on Hamas, which is backed by Tehran.

US Navy helicopters sank three vessels operated by Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels that had attacked a container ship in the Red Sea, the military said on Sunday.

After the Huthis fired on the US helicopters, they “returned fire in self-defence”, sinking three of four small boats that had come within 20 metres of the ship, and killing the crews, the US CENTCOM said in a statement. “The fourth boat fled the area,” it added.

CENTCOM said the navy responded to a request for assistance from the Maersk Hangzhou, a Singapore-flagged, Denmark-owned and operated container ship that reported coming under attack for a second time in 24 hours while transiting the Red Sea.

The vessel had earlier been targeted with two anti-ship ballistic missiles that the US military shot down. One of the missiles, both launched from Huthi-controlled Yemen, hit the Maersk Hangzhou.

The Huthis have repeatedly targeted vessels in the vital Red Sea shipping lane with strikes they say are in support of Palestinians in Gaza, where Israel is battling Hamas group.

The attacks are endangering a transit route that carries up to 12 percent of global trade, prompting the United States to set up a multinational naval task force this month to protect Red Sea shipping.

The latest round of the Israel-Hamas conflict began when the Palestinian Hamas group carried out a shock cross-border attack from Gaza on October 7 that killed about 1,140 people, mostly civilians.

The United States rushed military aid to support Israel, which has carried out a relentless campaign in Gaza that has killed at least 21,672 people, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry. Those deaths have sparked widespread anger in the Middle East and provided an impetus for attacks by armed groups across the region that are opposed to Israel.

US forces in Iraq and Syria have also repeatedly come under fire from drone and rocket attacks that Washington says are being carried out by Iran-backed armed groups. The Iran-aligned Huthis, who control much of Yemen, have disrupted world trade for weeks with attacks on ships passing through the Bab al-Mandab Strait at the southern end of the Red Sea in what they say is a response to Israel’s war in Gaza.

 

 

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