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Will attacks on ships in Red Sea affect India?

By Subhayan Chakraborty and Dhruvaksh Saha
December 26, 2023 13:41 IST
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'Given that the situation is quickly escalating, such attacks will affect the flow of crude in the short term from West Asia'

Subhayan Chakraborty and Dhruvaksh Saha report.

IMAGE: A view of the damage caused by the suspected drone attack on the merchant ship MV Chem Pluto. Photograph: ANI Photo

Growing attacks on ships, especially oil tankers, in and around the Red Sea will temporarily affect India’s crude shipments from West Asia, a petroleum ministry official said on Sunday after two India-bound vessels were attacked by drones, triggering concerns over maritime trade amid the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Late on Saturday, Gabon-flagged commercial crude oil tanker MV Sai Baba with 25 Indian crew members reportedly came under a one-way drone attack in the Southern Red Sea from the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels, who control much of Yemen, but no one was injured, the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) said on Sunday.

CENTCOM is one among 11 unified combatant commands of the US Department of Defense and operates in the Central Asian region.

The US Central Command’s report came a day after merchant vessel MV Chem Pluto, with around 20 Indian crew members, was hit by a suspected drone about 217 nautical miles off the Porbandar coast in the Arabian Sea and caught fire.


Officials in the know said the attack appeared to be a targeted one as the ship did have some connection to Israel.

The area is far away from the Houthis main base in Western Yemen and was sailing about 860 nautical miles off the Ye­men coast when it was hit.

The Japanese-owned and Liberia-flagged vessel was shipping petrochemicals to Mangalore, but it will now be going to Mumbai where the damage will be assessed.

“The bulk of crude volumes pass through those waters. The government is keeping an eye on the situation. But given that the situation is quickly escalating, such attacks will affect the flow of crude in the short term from West Asia,” an official said.

He also said the shipping charges were also expected to rise further as consignments from Europe were already ditching the Suez Canal-Red Sea route in favour of the much longer route around Africa and the Cape of Good Hope.

While the Ministry of External Affairs is yet to officially comment on the issue, shipping industry executives have exp­re­s­sed particular concerns about the attac­ks.

India’s shipping regulator, the Direct­orate General of Shipping, has been also actively monitoring the situation and coordinating with stakeholders.

Another senior official, however, said the attacks were unlikely to have an im­pact on any India-flagged vessels as most were operating on the coasts at this point.

Amid mounting attacks, the Centre has also resorted to seeking details of In­dian seafarers on foreign-flagged vessels to ensure their protection, the official added.

“If this happens, then ships coming from even the Persian Gulf are not safe,” the official said.

Imports from Saudi Ara­bia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Oman traverse the Gulf to reach the Ara­bian Sea, and on to the west coast ports.

The fresh assaults have come in the wake of Iran-backed Houthis stepping up attacks on ships in the Red Sea amid the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Earlier this week, the Centre flagged the rising cases of piracy in international waters and advised seafarers to be extremely cautious.

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Subhayan Chakraborty and Dhruvaksh Saha
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