The Indian Navy’s defense of the merchant ship MV Jag Arnav from the pirate attack on Tuesday which quite possibly saved the sailors on board almost never happened. When the Navy was first given permission to patrol the pirate-infested waters around the Gulf of Aden to protect Indian vessels, the Ministry of Defense (MoD) had put a rider saying all operations must be first cleared by the MoD before being carried out. So when the MV Jag Arnav was attacked on Tuesday, the INS Tabar, having received the distress signal immediately got in touch with the MoD for permission to defend the bulk cargo vessel, hoping for promptness.
Instead, there was utter confusion at the MoD with no one willing to take responsibility for a decision on the situation leaving the Navy exasperated and furious. “These babus had no idea how to deal with the situation. We ran from one man to the next, but nobody was willing to take a call. And when somebody did finally give us permission, he refused to do so in writing. It was absurd. When he finally agreed, he tried to insist on giving approval only with the disclaimer that this operation was only valid if carried out in self defence. He obviously had no clue,” said a source in the Navy.
The bureaucrats at the MoD were also apprehensive about the legality of the rescue operation being proposed by the Navy. This, inspite of the fact that international maritime law considers waters outside the 12-nautical miles from the coast of a country to be international waters where international navies can conduct operations if they so choose.
Further, the Indian Navy can legally deploy within Somali waters to protect its interests and send warships and military aircraft free to use ‘the necessary (military) means’ to stop piracy under UN Security Council Resolution 1838 of 2008. Resolution 1838 ‘calls upon all states interested in the security of maritime activities to take part actively in the fight against piracy on the high seas off the coast of Somalia, in particular by deploying naval vessels and military aircraft.’
The French-drafted text urges states with naval vessels and military aircraft operating on the high seas and airspace off the Somali coast ‘to use the necessary means, in conformity with international law for the repression of acts of piracy.’
But fortunately better sense prevailed in time and the INS Tabar was giving the go-ahead to launch the rescue mission, even though the MoD left the INS Tabar very little time to conduct the operation. “Thankfully the attack happened at 10:30 in the morning. If it had been night time, the babus would never have responded in time,” said the source.
Babus: Colloquial term for bureaucrats