India’s growing naval presence in the Red Sea region reflects its commitment to safety and security along the vital trade route. New Delhi has surveillance aircraft and at least 12 vessels focused on preventing piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea, Reuters news agency reported in late January 2024. A multinational coalition is working separately to repel Red Sea attacks on commercial vessels by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.
“India’s greater capability, our own interest and our reputation today warrant that we actually help out in difficult situations,” External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.
Since mid-November, Iran-backed Houthi forces have launched dozens of drone, missile and other attacks on cargo and military vessels in international shipping lanes, attempting to justify the onslaught as support for Hamas in its war against Israel.
In addition to airstrikes by the United Kingdom and the United States on the rebels’ infrastructure and weaponry, a multinational maritime coalition is participating in Operation Prosperity Guardian to protect Red Sea commercial shipping traffic. The French, U.K. and U.S. navies have shot down dozens of drones and missiles fired from Yemen.
India has not joined the U.S.-led security partnership but has raised concerns with Iran over the attacks on commercial ships, The Wall Street Journal newspaper reported. New Delhi’s ships are monitoring Indian-flagged vessels but have responded to other incidents, including Houthi attacks in January on a crude oil tanker and bulk cargo carrier, both sailing under the Marshall Islands flag.
Indian vessels deployed in the Indian Ocean region “are ensuring security against all maritime threats, keeping our seas safe for mariners of all nationalities,” the Indian Navy said.
The Houthi militia is targeting vessels in and near the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, which links the Mediterranean Sea and Indian Ocean via the Red Sea and Suez Canal. About 15% of international trade passes through the Suez Canal. The risk of attack is driving ships to avoid the route, opting for the longer passage around the southern tip of Africa.
As a result, Houthi aggression is not only adding to geopolitical tension but also threatening global supply chains and increasing greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
Jaishankar also called piracy a problem in the region. Pirate attacks off Somalia’s coast peaked in 2011 before international navies deployed to the area and shipping companies hired armed guards, the Agence France-Presse news service reported. Analysts say shifting military resources to thwart Houthi attacks in and around the Red Sea could lead to a piracy resurgence.
The Indian Navy patrol vessel INS Sumitra rescued two hijacked Iranian-flagged vessels off Somalia’s coast in late January, freeing 36 crew members. Earlier that month, India said its Navy rescued 21 crew members after pirates attacked a Liberian-flagged ship off Somalia.
Indian, Seychelles and Sri Lankan defense personnel also freed a Sri Lankan fishing crew from hijackers in waters off Somalia in late January, according to news reports.