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US keen to partner India in anti-piracy patrol

N C Bipindra on board the USS Ronald Reagan | October 22, 2008 14:27 IST

With India rushing its warship to Gulf of Aden after pirates attacked cargo ships carrying its nationals, the US says it is keen to partner with New Delhi [Images] to jointly patrol the high seas off the African coast to deter the armed outlaws.

"The Indian ships presence in Gulf of Aden will provide both of us an opportunity to work together (against pirates) and we are looking forward to it," said US Navy Captain Kenneth J Norton on board USS Ronald Reagan, the world's largest warship, as it sailed in the Arabian Sea about 130 miles off the Goa [Images] coast.

Washington's views on Indian warship patrolling the region comes in the wake of over 35 incidents of piracy attacks on cargo ships in Gulf of Aden in the last three months.

As recently as Monday, a dhow with 13 Indian sailors on board was hijacked by armed pirates and they were rescued by self-styled Somalian coast guard gunmen on Tuesday.

But there has been no word about 18 Indian sailors, who were taken hostage by Somalian pirates after hijacking Japanese-owned merchant vessel MV Stolt Valor on September 15.

"The US and its coalition ships are regularly deployed in the Gulf of Aden and along the African coast to act as a deterrent to the pirates operating there," said Captain Norton, the commanding officer of Ronald Reagan, which is participating in the Indo-US naval exercise Malabar-08.

Washington strongly felt that Indian warship's presence in African waters will strengthen the US-led coalition's existing arrangement for anti-piracy operations and patrolling in the region, Captain Norton said.

In view of the larger commercial and energy interests that several nations share in the Indian Ocean region, already South Korea and Malaysia have sent their ships for joint patrolling alongside the US warships in the region.

"We are already working together against piracy there with the Koreans and Malaysians and other nations, Norton said.

Asked for his assessment of the piracy menace in the region which is rich in oil, the US navy captain said the presence of naval warships with a mandate to interdict abducted ships would only "make pirates think twice" before operating.

"We know of at least a dozen instance when our ship's presence in the region has deterred pirates from operating there," Norton said, buttressing his point.

To a query on what the US Navy's response would be to a ship hijacked by pirates, he said: "We are still trying to figure out what has to be done if pirate have captured a ship.

But a lot of maritime organisations are working on this. And of course the owners of the merchant ships do negotiate with the pirates for release of hostages."

Indian Navy's Western Fleet Flag Officer Commanding Vice Admiral Anil Chopra, asked about the government's move to rush a warship to Gulf of Aden, said the decision was very recent and it was now being made into a policy.

On more Indian warships joining the anti-piracy operations in Gulf of Aden, Admiral Chopra said these would be sent as and when a need arose.

"The next ship will sail for Gulf of Aden to replace the existing warship in about a month's time," he added.

As part of Malabar-08, the two countries' navies also did 'Visit, Board, Search and Seizure' manoeuvres that are basically maritime security operations, but could be linked directly to anti-piracy operations.

During the exercise, the two sides sent in their warships carrying marine commandos to an Indian vessel that posed as an hijacked ship.

The teams played out the anti-piracy operation, cornering the armed outlaws and rescuing the "hijacked" vessel from their clutches.

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