Track fiscal trail of ransom money paid to pirates: Navy chief

Track fiscal trail of ransom money paid to pirates: Navy chief

Addressing the International Seapower Symposium at New Port in the US yesterday, Navy Chief Admiral Nirmal Verma said pirates were benefiting by the 'catch and release' policy of the navies but India was in the process of having domestic laws to tackle the menace.

Citing a report which stated that the economic cost of piracy may be as high as USD 12 billion a year, Verma said, "The question that begs to be answered is that how do they manage to divert funds in so unfettered manner?"

"There is a need to build a strategy beyond multinational maritime counter-piracy operations to facilitate tracking of the fiscal trail.

"It is important that our efforts be cultivated before what is at present a relatively benign problem of piracy, develops a nexus with radical terrorism which has a cancerous potential," he said.

Observing that piracy had resulted in high cost of operations for the shipping industry, Verma said at present, "nine ships with over 300 seafarers of a range of nationalities, including 53 of my own countrymen are presently hostages in this contentious conflict".

He said, "Despite multinational efforts, the number of incidents of and net effects of piracy are on the rise with seasonal variations on account of monsoon and other geographic shifts dependent on the presence of naval units."

Expressing concern over the spread of piracy near Indian island territories due to international counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, he said now pirates are using hijacked merchant vessels as mother ships which give them an extended reach of over 1000 nautical miles from Somalia.

Admiral Verma said due to spread in area of operations of pirates closer to India's island territories, the country had to increase its deployment in the anti-piracy campaign.

India was "particularly concerned" about the safety of mariners in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) as it was geographically centred aside the major shipping routes in the region, he said, adding the Navy has deployed its warships in the Gulf of Aden since 2008.

"So far, of the nearly 1800 ships that have been escorted by the Indian Navy in the Gulf of Aden, more than 80 per cent have been flying flags other than Indian," he said.

Verma said that increased deployments in the Arabian Sea have resulted in four pirate mother ships being intercepted by the Indian Navy and Coast Guard earlier this year.

"Consequently, there has been a reduction of piracy incidents in the area, and we intend to maintain this posture to assure international shipping," he said.

The Navy chief said that international efforts towards combating piracy would benefit if there were fewer disparate task forces and independent naval operations.

"India's relative autonomy of efforts towards combating piracy off Somalia can be traced to its preference for a UN mandated operations which we believe if adopted would holistically enhance the efficacy of operations," he said.

He said the measure of using armed guards is increasingly gaining preference but the maritime community has to be cautious of cases of mistaken identity as there have been cases near Indian coastline where regular fishermen have been mistaken as pirates.

"In this cycle of 'cause-effect-cause', there is a real danger of innocent casualties on account of mistaken identities. We have therefore issued advisories on this aspect," he said.

Admiral Verma said naval forces have been facing a major dilemma about apprehending pirates at sea, due to inadequate or ineffective legal mechanisms to prosecute them.

"It is estimated that 9 out of 10 apprehended pirates benefit from the 'catch and release' policy followed by most navies. In India also, we are presently faced with the challenge of prosecuting over a hundred apprehended pirates," he said.

The Navy chief said, "We have moved to make new and effective domestic laws, and we hope to have these in place... if we can share experiences in this regard, it will be a positive step in our collective fight against piracy."

He said to minimise possibility of situational escalation, the Navy has resorted to a unique measure of using their ship's life rafts.

"Once the mother ship has been forced to stop, the pirates and crew are made to leave the mother ship and get on the life rafts released by the naval ship. This ensures that the pirates cannot carry arms; after which, they can be brought onboard for further investigation," he said.

Verma suggested that the shipping community could consider installation of mechanisms to disable their engines once it becomes evident that pirates are succeeding in gaining control.

"This may discourage their attempts to commandeer the vessel with of course the attended risk of force escalation by the pirates on account of their frustrations," he said.

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