Indian navy deploys stealth destroyers amid rising threats to maritime trade

Following recent attacks on commercial vessels in the Arabian Sea, the Indian Navy has strategically deployed three stealth-guided missile destroyers—INS Mormugao, INS Kochi, and INS Kolkata—across various areas to ensure a formidable presence and act as a deterrent. The drone assaults on two vessels en route to India, each carrying Indian crew members, have sparked concerns about maritime trade safety amid heightened tensions due to Israel’s conflict in Gaza. While there were no casualties, the Indian Navy is taking the drone attacks by the Houthis seriously, considering their ideological hostility towards the US and Israel, as they support the Palestinian cause.

The Houthis have transformed the Red Sea into a conflict zone by launching missiles and drones at commercial ships navigating the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, a crucial passage south of Yemen leading to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. This has prompted fears of disrupting global supply chains unless humanitarian aid is provided to Gaza. In response, an international maritime coalition led by the US has formed to deter the militia.

The Suez Canal, a vital sea route responsible for approximately 12% of global oil trade and over USD 1 trillion worth of goods annually, is significantly impacted by the Houthi attacks. Major oil and shipping companies have temporarily suspended operations through the Red Sea, redirecting cargo vessels around the southern tip of Africa. This rerouting could add up to 10 days of travel westward, incurring an estimated additional cost of up to $1 million per ship. The escalating attacks, particularly on oil tankers, in the Red Sea region will have a temporary impact on India’s crude shipments from traditional trade partners in West Asia, with Iraq and Saudi Arabia being the second and third largest sources of crude as of November.

Given its established role in anti-piracy patrols against Somali pirates, the Indian Navy is now tasked with safeguarding India’s maritime trade. This may involve providing convoy escorts for merchant vessels exiting the Suez Canal and heading towards Indian ports. Any assault on the convoy or its escorts should be treated as an act of war. The Indian government must decide on securing merchant ships from the Suez eastwards through the Red Sea, up to Bab el-Mandeb, and into the Arabian Sea.

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