On December 25, 2023, an analysis by the Indian Navy officials revealed that the Liberian chemical tanker MV Chem Pluto was struck by a drone off India’s western coast, but the origin of the strike and the number of explosives used for it could be known after further forensic and technical scrutiny. This happened after an alleged drone attacked the vessel which was later safely escorted by the Indian Coast Guard to the Mumbai Harbour and was later duly inspected by the Indian Navy.
Indian Navy Inspection
The Indian Navy’s explosive ordnance disposal team carried out a detailed and thorough inspection of the Liberian-flagged vessel on its arrival at the Mumbai harbor, two days after the ship was hit by a drone in the Arabian Sea when it was on its way to the New Mangalore Port.
“On her arrival, the Indian Navy explosive ordnance disposal team inspected the vessel to make a primary assessment of the type and nature of the aircraft. The analysis of the area of attack and debris found on the ship points towards a drone attack,” a Navy Spokesperson said.
The vessel with 21 Indians and one Vietnamese crew anchored at outer anchorage off Mumbai at 3:30 PM. It was escorted on its way to Mumbai, by the Indian Coast Guard Ship ICGS Vikram. However, forensic, and technical analysis will be required to establish the vector of attack including the type and amount of explosive used, he said.
“MV Chem Pluto has been cleared for further operation by her company in charge at Mumbai. The Ship is scheduled to undergo mandatory checks by the various inspecting authorities before undertaking ship-to-ship transfer of cargo,” he said. This is likely to be followed by docking and repairs of the damaged MV Chem Pluto.
The drone attack on Pluto came amid increasing concerns over various commercial vessels being targeted (reportedly) by Iran-backed Houthi militants in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden amid the Israel-Hamas Conflict
Sea-Based Drone Attacks
On December 23, 2023, MV Pluto was carrying crude oil to the port of New Mangalore from Al-Jubail port in Saudi Arabia and was struck about 217 nautical miles from Porbandar, Gujarat. However, no one was injured in the incident. In a similar incident, a Gabon-flagged vessel (commercial crude oil tanker) came under drone attack in the Southern Red Sea, but no one was injured.
Indian Navy Deployment
On December 24, 2023, one spokesperson from the Pentagon said that MV Pluto was hit by a one-way attack drone fired from the Islamic Republic of Iran. In the view of spate of attacks on commercial vessels in the Arabian Sea, the Indian Navy deployed a P-8 Orion long-range patrol for surveillance.
“Considering the recent spate of attacks in the Arabian Sea, the Indian Navy has deployed guided missile destroyers INS Mormugao, INS Kochi, and INS Kolkata in various areas to maintain strategic deterrent presence,” an Indian Navy official said. He said that the long-range maritime reconnaissance P-8 Aircraft are being sent regularly tasked to maritime domain awareness.