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India navy rescues Arabian Sea crew after hijack attempt

India’s navy said Friday it had rescued 21 crew members from a vessel in the Arabian Sea after a hijacking distress call, the latest attack on commercial shipping in the region. Last month the force deployed several warships into the sea to “maintain a deterrent presence” after a string of recent shipping attacks, including a drone strike near India’s coast which the United States has blamed on Iran. It comes at a time when many vessels have been rerouted from the Red Sea due to drone and missile attacks carried out by Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, where Israel is battling Hamas militants. A navy statement said Friday that all 21 crew members, including 15 Indian nationals, aboard the MV Lila Norfolk had been evacuated from the ship’s citadel — a fortified section of commercial vessels used as a refuge during pirate attacks. The 84,000-tonne bulk carrier had been boarded by five or six “unknown armed personnel” on Thursday evening but the attempted hijacking was “probably abandoned” after a forceful warning by Indian Navy, the statement said. It added that the warship INS Chennai, which had intercepted the vessel earlier Friday, was working to restore power and propulsion to allow the Liberian-flagged bulk carrier to continue to its next port of call. The navy did not give a precise location of the vessel, which was last pinged by online marine traffic monitors off the coast of East Africa six days earlier. It also did not specify whether hijackers had gained control of the ship at any point but said earlier that an overhead patrol flight had confirmed the safety of the crew on Friday morning. Steve Kunzer, chief executive of the vessel’s Dubai-based owners Lila Global, thanked the Indian navy for the rescue. “We also want to thank the professionalism of our crew who reacted safely and responsibly under the circumstances,” he said in a statement. – ‘Committed to ensuring safety’ – The Indian navy said it “remains committed to ensuring safety of merchant shipping in the region along with international partners and friendly foreign countries.” Last month a drone attack hit the MV Chem Pluto tanker 200 nautical miles (370 kilometres) off the coast of India. Iran’s foreign ministry rejected accusations of responsibility for that attack by Washington as “worthless”. It was the first time Washington had openly accused Iran of directly targeting ships since the start of Israel’s war on the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which is backed by Tehran. That conflict was triggered by an unprecedented attack on Israel launched by Hamas on October 7 from the Gaza Strip, during which about 1,140 people, mostly civilians, were killed, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures. Fighters also seized about 250 hostages, Israel says. Israel’s campaign has killed at least 22,600 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. Yemeni rebel attacks have prompted major firms to reroute their cargo vessels around the southern tip of Africa, a much longer voyage with higher fuel costs.

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