India’s navy deploys warships to Arabian Sea after tanker attack

Guided missile destroyers to ‘maintain deterrent presence’ after Israel-linked vessel hit off Indian coast.

A stealth guided-missile destroyer at the Naval Dockyard in Mumbai, India
A stealth guided-missile destroyer at the Naval Dockyard in Mumbai, India [File: Divyakant Solanki/EPA]

The Indian Navy has dispatched guided missile destroyers to the Arabian Sea after an attack on an Israel-linked chemical tanker off its coast, the Ministry of Defence said.

Three stealth-guided destroyers were deployed “in various areas of the sea” to “maintain a deterrent presence” considering the “recent spate of attacks in the Arabian Sea”, the ministry said in a statement late on Monday. It was also using long-range maritime patrol aircraft for “domain awareness”, it said.

The United States claimed that the December 23 strike on MV Chem Pluto in the Indian Ocean was “fired from Iran”, an accusation that Tehran has dismissed as baseless.

The attack came as a US-led task force sought to counter similar threats to maritime shipping in the Red Sea posed by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi rebels.

Amid the uptick in maritime strikes, this was the first that the US has sought to directly pin on Iran. It was also the first on a vessel outside the Red Sea.

“We can see that militarisation is increasing, not only in the Red Sea, but also in the Arabian Peninsula,” said Al Jazeera’s Resul Sardar, reporting from Djibouti.

“These are the regional ramifications of the war on Gaza,” he reported on Tuesday.

The Indian Navy said it was investigating the nature of the attack on MV Chem Puto, which “anchored safely” in the financial capital, Mumbai, on Monday.

An initial assessment “pointed to a drone attack”, the ministry said. But “further forensic and technical analysis will be required to establish the vector of attack, including type and amount of explosive used”.

The vessel had been “cleared for further operation” by its company, according to the ministry.

Shipping under threat

MV Chem Pluto, a Japanese-owned tanker carrying 21 Indians and one Vietnamese citizen, was hit on Saturday while travelling 200 nautical miles (370km) off the coast of India, according to the Pentagon. The attack sparked a fire, which was put out, but caused no casualties.

The Houthis have pledged to target any Israel-linked vessel in the Red Sea, through which some 12 percent of all global trade passes, in solidarity with Gaza which has been bombarded by land, sea and air by the Israeli military.

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Sardar said that despite the new US-led task force, there still hasn’t been an increase in ships trying to pass through the Red Sea, adding that dozens of cargo ships remain stranded in Djibouti.

Since October, the Houthis have waged attacks on more than a dozen vessels, pushing some of the world’s largest firms to abandon the route. The attack in the Indian Ocean, far away from the Red Sea, has raised concerns about even broader risks to maritime shipping amid the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Washington has accused Tehran of being “deeply involved” in the Houthi operations.

But Iran insists that it is not coordinating with the Houthis and plays no role in the attacks.

“The resistance [Houthis] has its own tools … and acts in accordance with its own decisions and capabilities,” Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri told the Mehr news agency on Saturday.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies