Navy denies reports of sinking Thai fishing boat

A maritime watchdog says that a vessel sunk by the Indian navy in the Gulf of Aden was a Thai fishing trawler and not a Somali pirate vessel. India's navy denied the reports and said the ship it sank was hostile.


A maritime watchdog said Wednesday that the vessel sunk by the Indian navy in the Gulf of Aden was a Thai fishing trawler and not a Somali pirate vessel as was first announced.


But India's navy denied the reports and said the ship it sank was hostile.


The Indian Navy won international praise for taking on the Somali pirates, who have turned the vital Suez Canal trade route into the world's most dangerous waterway.


But Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) piracy reporting centre, said the vessel it attacked was a Thai-operated fishing boat which had been seized by Somali pirates off Yemen on November 18.


"We can confirm that the incident has taken place. One Thai crew member died during the attack by the Indian navy, on the same day the vessel was hijacked by Somali pirates," he told AFP.


Choong said that one Cambodian crewman was rescued by passing fishermen four days later, but 14 other crew on the Kiribati-registered vessel are still missing.


India's navy defended its actions, saying Wednesday that the vessel its stealth frigate fired on had been hostile.


"The Indian navy ship asked them to stop for investigation on repeated calls. The vessel responded by saying it would blow up the Indian ship," navy spokesman Commander Nirad Sinha told AFP in New Delhi.


"Pirates were seen roaming on the deck with rocket-propelled grenade launchers," he said, adding that the Indian navy only opened fire after being fired upon.


Choong said that photographs of the Thai vessel had been sent out to the coalition naval forces and other agencies when it was hijacked as "the fishing boat was actually an ideal mother vessel for the pirates."


"The Indian navy may have not received this information as they are not part of the coalition forces and we have no direct link with them," he said.


The downed boat was owned by the Thai-based Sirichai Fisheries and was being held by heavily armed pirates at the time the Indian frigate, the INS Tabar, opened fire.


Sirichai Fisheries confirmed the deep sea trawler Ekawatnava 5 had been destroyed and said the crew were tied up when it opened fire.


"The ship was hijacked early in the day and was sunk in the evening," its managing director Wicharn Sirchaiekawat told AFP in Bangkok.


"Based on the surviving Cambodian crew member's account, all of them were tied up except two -- the captain and translator -- during the attack."


Wicharn said the Thai foreign ministry had summoned the Indian ambassador to Thailand to hand over a complaint.


"We want to know the details -- why it was sunk and why the Indian navy did not rescue the crew," he said.


Choong said that naval ships operating independently in the region should make efforts to obtain information on hijacked vessels, and link up with coalition forces to avoid confusion in the future.


"Hopefully this tragic incident will not happen again, and more importantly it should not hamper existing anti-piracy operation by the navy," he said.


Choong said that coalition forces and Yemeni authorities are searching for any survivors from the Thai fishing boat.


The IMB said 96 ships have been attacked so far this year off Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden, with 39 hijacked and 15 still being held with more than 300 crew aboard.

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