In a classic tit-for-tat move that has come to define their volatile relationship, New Delhi on Saturday lodged a protest with Islamabad over Pakistan naval ship (PNS) Babur violating relevant regulations on navigational safety by its “risky” manoeuvres, and jeopardising the safety of Indian naval ship (INS) Godavari and its crew, the Times of India reported on Saturday.
On Friday, the Pakistan Foreign Office had lodged an identical complaint with the Indian government over the “dangerous manoeuvre” of INS Godavari as it escorted Egyptian merchant vessel (MV) Suez, recently released by Somali pirates, to Port Salalah in Oman.
Both PNS Babur and INS Godavari are providing cover for MV Suez that has 22 released hostages on board, including six Indians, 11 Egyptians, four Pakistanis and one Sri Lankan, freed after 10 months in captivity.
The protests come a day after Pakistan and India announced that their top diplomats would meet in Islamabad next week to discuss the Kashmir dispute, along with issues pertaining to peace and security between the two nations, for the first time in three years.
After Pakistan lodged its complaint, Indian external affairs ministry released a statement on Saturday saying the Naval advisor of the Pakistan high commission had been summoned by the ministry of defence and “our serious concern on this incident was conveyed.”
According to the Pakistani foreign office, PNS Babur, part of the international combined task force on anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, had been escorting MV Suez when the Indian warship moved dangerously close to PNS Babur and brushed against it almost 100 nautical miles east of Port Salalah.
An Indian navy official refuted Pakistani allegations that an Indian vessel had put at risk MV Suez. “Reports of aggression by INS Godavari are incorrect and based on misinformation,” he said.
As per Indian media reports, INS Godavari had joined up with MV Suez on June 16 to escort the ship which is carrying six Indians among 22 sailors.
The Indian navy has already been under immense domestic pressure for not sending help in time to sailors and being beaten by Pakistan in measures to get the hostages released and escorted back to safety.
The release materialised after hectic efforts by the Ansar Burney Trust, which arranged a $2.1 million ransom to rescue the hostages last Monday.
India, which was due to contribute $500,000 as part of its share of the ransom fee, never turned up with its promised amount, almost putting the lives of 22 sailors in jeopardy.
After the sailors and their ship were released by pirates on Tuesday,MV Suez once again came under attack from Somali pirates. However, by this time PNS Babur had reached the ship and thwarted the attack.
Impact on talks
The event has snowballed into a diplomatic row as both countries lodged tit-for-tat protests with each other for impeding humanitarian missions.
However, it is not yet clear if the latest incident could impact crucial foreign secretary-level talks on June 23-24.
The two-day parleys will also discuss confidence building measures (CBMs) and promotion of friendly exchanges, the statement said.
Talks on the Kashmir dispute, which has been the main source of friction between the two countries for the past 60 years, will be the first since the November 2008 Mumbai attacks.
Suez runs out of fuel
Meanwhile, Burney announced on Saturday that although technical faults in MV Suez had been fixed, the ship has run out of fuel.
Speaking to Express 24/7, Burney said that if fuel is not supplied toMV Suez in the next 24 hours, all of its crew will have to be rescued.
Pakistan Navy sources add that the Panama based company which owns Suez has ordered another ship The Hasic to assist the stranded vessel.
The Hasic is expected to tow Suez early Sunday morning.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 19th, 2011.