The ongoing conflict in Gaza has triggered wider tensions in the Red Sea, impacting India despite its apparent distance. Houthi rebels have directly targeted commercial ships bound for Indian ports, including the December 23rd attack on the M V Chem Pluto docked in Mangalore. This follows another drone attack on the M V Sai Baba en-route to India on the same day.
In response, the Indian Navy has significantly increased its presence and surveillance in the region to safeguard its shipping interests and crew safety. Four Project 15A and 15B class destroyers have been deployed to counter drone and missile threats, while long-range P8I anti-submarine aircraft, Dornier planes, and helicopters provide crucial reconnaissance capabilities. This deployment aims to monitor the situation and safeguard crucial maritime channels closely.
India has taken a multi-pronged approach to deter potential threats from Iranian proxies targeting commercial ships. Several warships equipped with Brahmos missiles, including INS Kolkata, INS Kochi, INS Mormugao, INS Chennai, and INS Visakhapatnam, have been deployed in the Arabian Sea. Air surveillance is being conducted by Boeing P8I anti-submarine warfare aircraft and unarmed Predator drones, specifically scanning for vessels that could be used in attacks. Additionally, the Indian Coast Guard is patrolling the country’s western exclusive economic zone (EEZ) with Dornier surveillance aircraft and off-shore patrol vessels, contributing to an overall deterrence strategy. This combined effort demonstrates India’s proactive measures to safeguard its maritime interests and ensure safe passage for commercial ships in the region.
Five powerful Indian destroyers are being refueled by a massive civilian oil tanker named MV Swarnmala. This tanker, with its significantly larger fuel capacity compared to smaller naval tankers like INS Deepak, allows the destroyers to maintain their presence across the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) stretching 200 nautical miles from the coast. Meanwhile, Indian Boeing P8I aircraft and long-range surveillance drones are patrolling the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden, specifically searching for suspicious vessels potentially used by Iranian-backed groups like the Houthisand Hezbollah, who have been targeting commercial shipping amid regional tensions. The Suez Canal, seeing nearly a trillion dollars in trade annually, can experience significant economic disruptions due to shipping threats, impacting both transportation costs and insurance premiums.
In the volatile landscape surrounding the Red Sea, two major players are making their presence felt: the US and India. The US aircraft carrier Gerald Ford patrols the Mediterranean while its counterpart, Dwight Eisenhower, guards the Gulf of Aden against Houthi threats to Red Sea shipping. This comes despite the success of Operation Prosperity Guardian in intercepting Houthi missiles.
Meanwhile, European and Chinese warships maintain a cautious distance. While China keeps its three Djibouti-based vessels away from potential conflicts, India takes a proactive approach. Indian Navy ships patrol key points across the Arabian Sea, deterring Iranian threats and securing crucial sea lanes. This comes after an Iranian attack on a chemical tanker near India’s coast, highlighting the region’s complex security challenges.
The ongoing conflict in Yemen continues to disrupt crucial trade routes, with the latest incident occurring on January 26th in the Gulf of Aden. Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, allegedly launched an anti-ship missile attack on the MV Merlin Luanda tanker, setting it ablaze but thankfully causing no casualties. This incident follows a recent escalation where the Houthis also targeted a US warship and a British vessel, marking the first direct attack on a US warship since the rebels began their assault on maritime traffic in October.
The Suez Canal, a critical artery for global trade, has seen a dramatic decline in activity due to recent attacks in the Red Sea. UNCTAD reports a 42% drop in traffic, causing a ripple effect that threatens to inflate energy and food costs worldwide. Container ships are hit particularly hard, with their presence in the Red Sea plummeting by 90%. Major shipping companies, fearing these attacks, have temporarily abandoned the Suez Canal, opting for the longer Cape of Good Hope route, resulting in a staggering 173-200% increase in freight charges. To ward off attacks, commercial vessels are resorting to various tactics, including broadcasting messages identifying themselves with nations considered friendly to Iran, in hopes of deterring Houthi aggression. This complex situation poses a significant challenge to global trade, adding to existing geo-political and climate concerns.
An Indian Navy guided-missile destroyer, INS Visakhapatnam, heroically responded to a distress call on January 26th from a British oil tanker, MV Merlin Luanda, in the Gulf of Aden. The tanker had caught fire after a suspected attack by Houthi rebels off the coast of Yemen. With 22 Indian and 1 Bangladeshi crew members on board, the situation was critical. Thankfully, the INS Visakhapatnam deployed a firefighting team to assist in controlling the blaze, demonstrating the Indian Navy’s commitment to maritime safety and international cooperation.
This action came at the request of the ship’s captain after it was hit by a missile, most likely fired by Houthi rebels. The US military had previously reported assisting the vessel as well. The captain expressed his gratitude for the Indian Navy’s crucial intervention, highlighting their “specialized team” that went above and beyond to aid them in this critical situation.
The Indian Navy has swiftly deployed forces to protect its interests in the Red Sea region, but long-term stability requires broader cooperation. India, the US, and other partners need to closely track Houthi rebel movements, proactively counter their plans, and share real-time intelligence. All this must happen while keeping a watchful eye on the Gaza situation. Essentially, India needs to leverage its naval strength and diplomatic skills to manage the crisis for both its own sake and the world’s. India’s strategic response to Red Sea turmoil characterises naval prowess and Global maritime responsibility. Amid escalating tensions triggered by Gaza conflict repercussions, the Indian Navy deploys advanced destroyers, air surveillance, and Coast Guard patrols, demonstrating a comprehensive approach to safeguard shipping lanes. The refuelling dynamics with MV Swarnmala ensure a sustained naval presence across the Exclusive Economic Zone, showcasing foresight. Amid global disruptions in the Suez Canal, India’s proactive stance, exemplified by INS Visakhapatnam’s swift aid to MV Merlin Luanda, underscores not just naval strength but a commitment to international cooperation. India emerges as a stabilizing force, advocating collaboration for global maritime security.