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35 Somali pirates accused of hijacking cargo vessel MV Ruen in December have been brought to Mumbai to stand trial. The hijacking, which took place in the Arabian Sea, was the first successful boarding by Somali pirates since 2017. Indian naval commandos rescued 17 crew members from the vessel, which was controlled by the pirates, and the Somalis are now in police custody. This marks the first time in over a decade that captured pirates have been brought to India for trial under the country’s anti-piracy laws.

The rescue operation, led by the INS Kolkata, involved a 40-hour mission that culminated in commandos parachuting onto the vessel and cornering the 35 pirates to surrender. The operation has been hailed as a major success by the Bulgarian vessel owner Navibulgar. Somali pirates have previously targeted large vessels by capturing a “mother ship” that can travel long distances. The European Union Naval Force believes that the MV Ruen may have been used in the hijacking of another vessel, the MV Abdullah, which is still being held hostage with its crew in Somali waters.

India has been actively involved in anti-piracy efforts off the coast of Somalia since 2008, with a recent surge in maritime assaults prompting the deployment of at least a dozen warships in the Gulf of Aden and the northern Arabian Sea since December. Despite the decrease in Somali pirate attacks in recent years, incidents of hijacking, attempted hijacking, and suspicious approaches have still been recorded by the Indian Navy. The global economy suffered significant losses during the peak of Somali pirate attacks in 2011, including hundreds of millions of dollars in ransom payments.

The captured pirates in this case could potentially face life imprisonment or the death penalty under India’s anti-piracy laws. The navy’s decision to prosecute the hijackers in India is a departure from their previous practice of leaving disarmed pirates at sea after rescuing vessels and crew. The fate of other suspected pirates captured by the Indian Navy this year in separate operations remains unknown. Cargo ships in the region have been advised to exercise caution and await instructions due to ongoing conflicts in the Arabian Sea, leaving them vulnerable to potential attacks.

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