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Drone hits merchant vessel off India's west coast, Coast Guard steps in to save 20 Indians

The Indian Coast Guard said the vessel has started making way towards Mumbai post undertaking damage assessment and repairs on its power generation systems.

Edited By: Hritika Mitra @MitraHritika New Delhi Updated on: December 24, 2023 11:33 IST
Drone hits merchant vessel off India's west, second attack
Image Source : REPRESENTATIVE IMAGE Drone hits merchant vessel off India's west, second attack in Indian Ocean

A Gabbon-flagged merchant vessel was attacked by drones in the Red Sea on Saturday consisting 25 India crew, news agency ANI reported citing Indian Navy officials. The incident comes against the backdrop of Iran-backed Houthi rebels stepping up attacks on ships in the Red Sea amid the Israel-Hamas conflict.

The tanker MV Saibaba did not report any injuries. A P-8I long-range maritime surveillance aircraft, deployed by the Indian Navy after the UK Maritime Trade Operations, or UKMTO, reported the "attack", ascertained the safety of the vessel, MV Chem Pluto, and its crew, the sources said.

The Indian Coast Guard said the vessel has started making way towards Mumbai post undertaking damage assessment and repairs on its power generation systems. "The Coast Guard Dornier aircraft has sanitised the area and established communication with Chem Pluto. The vessel has started making way towards Mumbai post undertaking damage assessment and repairs on its power generation systems," it said. "The vessel is likely to enter Mumbai and sought escort assistance due to steering issues. Indian Coast Guard Ship Vikram will be escorting the ship during its passage. The Indian Coast Guard Operations Centre is monitoring the situation closely," it said in a late night statement.

Indian Navy, Coast Guard deploy patrol warship

Earlier, the Indian Navy dispatched a frontline warship to assist the merchant ship. The UKMTO which operates under Britain's Royal Navy said it received a report of an attack by Uncrewed Aerial System (UAS) on a vessel causing an explosion and fire, adding the incident took place 200 nautical miles South West of Veraval in India. It said the fire was "extinguished" and there were no casualties. It is learnt that the vessel, sailing under a Liberian flag, was carrying crude oil from Al Jubail port in Saudi Arabia to New Mangalore port.

The Coast Guard said its Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) in Mumbai received information regarding the fire onboard MV Chem Pluto. "The MRCC established real-time communication with the vessel's agent and ascertained no loss of life and assured all assistance," it said adding the Coast Guard "immediately diverted other merchant vessels in the vicinity of Chem Pluto for rendering assistance".

Indian Navy officials said a maritime patrol aircraft was sent following the incident and it flew overhead the merchant vessel and established contact with it. "The aircraft ascertained the safety of the vessel and its crew," a Navy official told PTI. It is learnt that MV Chem Pluto switched off its Automatic Identification System (AIS) following the attack. The AIS enables tracking of a ship.

In a brief statement, the UKMTO said that it "received a report of an attack by Uncrewed Aerial System (UAS) on a vessel causing an explosion and fire." The UKMTO said authorities are "investigating" the incident. "Vessels are advised to transit with caution and report any suspicious activity to UKMTO," it said. The UKMTO is a British military organisation that provides maritime security information and largely acts as the primary point of contact for merchant vessels involved in maritime incidents.

It receives reports and information on suspicious incidents from merchant shipping and shares that information with its regional, national contacts, as well as Industry and vessels operating in that area, according to UKMTO. The Indian Navy's deployment of the maritime patrol aircraft and the warship came days after it swiftly responded to the hijacking of a Malta-flagged cargo vessel by pirates in the Arabian Sea. The hijacking of the cargo vessel was reported on December 14. Days later, it evacuated one of the 18 crew members onboard the vessel off the coast of Somalia to provide medical care after he was injured by the pirates.

(With inputs from PTI) 

ALSO READ | US, allies plan international force to counter Houthi attacks on commercial vessels in Red Sea

ALSO READ | Houthi rebels in Yemen target Norway tanker ship with cruise missile in Red Sea: US

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