Indian Navy boards hi-jacked bulk carrier, crew are reported safe

The Indian Navy deployed a warship and a maritime patrol aircraft in the Arabian Sea following the hijacking of bulk carrier Lila Norfolk (IMO 9281700) last Thursday July 4th. There were 21 crew members, 15 of them Indian nationals.

The aircraft overflew the vessel on early morning of January 5th and established contact with the vessel, establishing the safety of the crew.

The hi-jacking followed a strange path, literally and metaphorically. After the crew signalled for help, the vessel continued on its north-easterly route (i.e., away from Somalia) for several hours, before eventually turning back towards the Somalian coast.

Late on Thursday January 4th the Lila Norfolk alerted the UK Maritime Trade Organization (UKMTO) that five or six armed individuals were boarding the vessel (see IMN, Friday). The vessel had been en route from Brazil to Bahrain, and was situated about 460nm to the east of Eyl, Somalia at the time the incident was reported.

The Lila Norfolk left Porto Do Acu, Brazil, on December 6th. It had been scheduled to arrive in Khalifa Bin Salman on January 12th.

The crew reported that they had fled to the citadel, which would be one explanation for the period of time that elapsed between the boarding by the pirates and the change in direction.

AIS signals showed that the vessel was initially continuing on course, but later stopped. The Indian Navy reported the crew had been operating the vessel from the citadel and that they were secure. The vessel however later turned toward Somalia, but it was unclear if the boarders were able to breach the citadel.

The delay in the change of direction would have made it easier for the Indian Navy to intercept the bulk carrier, which it duly achieved on January 5th. An elite team of marine commandos boarded the vessel and reported that they had “sanitized” the ship. The hijackers were believed to have fled the ship. No injuries to the crew were reported.

The INS Chennai warship was already in the vicinity when the hijacking was reported, which made it possible for the ship to be caught before it found protection in Eyl. The naval ship supported the restoration of power generation and propulsion on the Lila Norfolk, enabling it to recommence its voyage to Bahrain.

The Indian Navy said that “sanitization by MARCOs has confirmed absence of the hijackers. The attempt of hijacking by the pirates was probably abandoned with the forceful warning by the Indian navy MPA of interception by Indian naval warship”.

It was not clear where EUNAVFOR’s ships in the region (part of Operation Atalanta) were. The operation had recently been pressing for its remit to continue because of the ongoing threat of hijacking, which had for a few years gone through a period of quiescence. A couple of weeks ago another vessel was hijacked, but was “tracked” to its port, rather than intercepted, possibly because of potential danger to the crew if an interception was attempted.

Presumably referring to Operation Atalanta, the Indian Navy said that the overall situation was being “closely monitored” in coordination with other maritime agencies in the region.

Steve Kunzer, CEO of Lila Global , said that “we want to thank the agencies that assisted in their rescue in particular the Indian Navy, Capt Rohit Bajpai, director IFC-IOR and the officials of DG Shipping. We also want to thank the professionalism of our crew who reacted safely and responsibly under the circumstances. We will provide more updates as more information becomes available to us”.

2006-built, Liberia-flagged, 84,448 gt Lila Norfolk is owned by AVR Shipping Ltd care of Kyra Global Marine Services DMCC of Dubai, UAE. It is entered with West (Claims Team Greece) on behalf of AVR Ltd. Video at: