Making use of an unusual tactic, the Indian navy has retaken a hijacked cargo ship by air dropping commandos from a Boeing fixed-wing strategic transport.

The action occurred some 260nm (481km) east of Somalia on 16 March, where Somali pirates were holding the Malta-flagged commercial vessel MV Ruen and 17 crew after a December 2023 seizure.

New Delhi says naval surveillance assets were tracking the ship in the Arabian Sea, when the pirates fired on an Indian reconnaissance drone and the naval vessel from which it had been launched, the INS Kolkata.

“In a reckless hostile act, the pirates shot down the drone and fired at the Indian naval warship,” the Indian navy says.

In response, New Delhi launched its operation to liberate the Ruen, which involved additional naval vessels, a Boeing C-17 Globemaster, a Boeing P-8I Neptune maritime patrol aircraft and an unspecified high-altitude remotely piloted aircraft.

The Ruen was forced to stop after the Kolkata took unspecified action that “disabled the ship’s steering system and navigational aids”, according to India. Marine commandos then moved in.

While the hijacked vessel was under surveillance by an Indian navy P-8I, commandos parachuted from an Indian air force C-17 into the water several hundred metres from the Ruen.

The marine force boarded several motorised rigid inflatable vessels, which also appear to have been air dropped into the area, and then boarded the Ruen via a set of hull-mounted stairs.

Images of the operation show a number of commandos descending toward the sea under canopy, while a grey C-17 climbs after a low pass. A cloud of red smoke just off the Ruen’s bow marks the commandos’ aquatic drop zone, where their small boats are visible.

MV Ruen track

Source: Marinetraffic

The MV Ruen was hijacked by Somali pirates in December 2023 en route to Turkey from South Korea

A single Hindustan Aeronautics Chetak helicopter bearing the orange, white and green roundel of the Indian navy is also visible in one photo, providing overwatch of the commando raid.

The marines were successful in boarding and retaking the Ruen, according to New Delhi.

“Due to sustained pressure and calibrated actions by the Indian navy… all 35 Somali pirates surrendered,” India says. “All 17 original crew members of MV Ruen were also safely evacuated from the pirate vessel without any injury.”

The operation to retake the Ruen took more than 40h, according to New Delhi.

In an 18 March call with Indian defence minister Rajnath Singh, US secretary of defense Lloyd Austin praised “India’s support for the rule of law in the Arabian Sea and adjacent waterways”, according to the Pentagon.