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After Iranian Attack on Tanker, India Deploys Destroyers to Arabian Sea

Chem Pluto
Chem Pluto after the attack last week. The damage can be seen on close examination: the blast obliterated the letters "hem" in "Chem Pluto" on her transom (Indian Navy)

Published Dec 26, 2023 3:35 PM by The Maritime Executive

After an Iranian drone attack on a tanker in the Arabian Sea, the Indian government has decided to send three warships to the area to "maintain a deterrent presence."

The U.S. government has attributed the attack on the tanker Chem Pluto to Iranian forces and claims that the munition was "fired from Iran." Though Tehran denies involvement, its officials have threatened to expand recent Iranian proxy attacks on Israel-linked shipping into additional ocean basins. Iran also has a history of harassing merchant shipping with kinetic strikes, including drone and missile attacks. 

Attacks in India's western shipping lanes present a new geostrategic challenge for New Delhi. The deployment of three guided-missile destroyers represents a substantial commitment to maritime security, but it also adds a new wrinkle for the complexities of Iranian-Indian relations. The two nations are past and present commercial partners but they have conflicting foreign policy priorities. 

The Indian Ministry of Defense left the details of the patrol under wraps, saying only that the warships would be deployed to "various areas" to respond to a "recent spate of attacks in the Red Sea." 

"India's growing economic and strategic power has filled some forces with jealousy and hatred. The Indian government has taken the attacks on MV Chem Pluto and attack on MV Sai Baba in the Red Sea very seriously. We will find those who executed the recent attacks on merchant navy ships even from the depths of the seas and take strict action against them. The perpetrators will soon be brought to justice and strict action will be taken against them," said Defense Minister Rajnath Singh in a speech Tuesday. 

The attack on the Liberian-flagged Chem Pluto occurred on Dec. 19 at a position about 200 nm off the coast of India, near the boundary of the Indian exclusive economic zone. The blast tore a hole in the vessel's transom near deck level and caused interior damage. Luckily, none of the 21 crewmembers were injured in the strike. 

An Indian Coast Guard cutter escorted Chem Pluto back to port in Mumbai, where it arrived on Christmas Day. An Indian Navy EOD team examined the damage and confirmed that it was consistent with a drone strike. A detailed forensic investigation is under way to determine the composition of the explosive and further details of the munition used in the attack.