A crowd looks through the bullet-shattered glass of Café Leopold
I arrived in Mumbai several days before the terrorist
attacks. I was excited about being here because it's the "New York" of
India. Moreover, I wanted a change of pace since I had missed the city
life. I had been dying for a real coffee and going to a western
restaurants and bars. Also,
I had been reading the novel Shantaram, whose story takes place in
Mumbai, and I
wanted to explore the city and hopefully encounter the same
exciting adventure. The first place I visited upon my arrival was Café
Leopold located in the heart of Colaba, a tourist district. It gained
international recognition when Gregory Roberts wrote about it in his novel. Though he
described it as a watering hole where gangsters, gunrunners, drug
dealers, tourists, and locals mingled during the early years, it is
now a city landmark attracting tourists and backpackers from all over
On November 26, I went to a bar to
have drinks with some friends. We
decided to go to a local bar rather than Café Leopold because the beer
significantly cheaper. Around 9 PM I went to check my email at an
Internet café across the street from Café Leopold. Minutes later I
heard loud bangs, which I thought were firecrackers. However, more
bangs followed, and they were louder and closer. My
instinct was telling me something bad is happening outside. I knew then
they weren't firecrackers but gunshots, and my heart was racing. My
first thought was that it was a gunfight between gangs. I peeked
through the window, and I saw people scrambling and hiding in dark
alleys. The owner of the Internet café immediately locked the door and
turned off the light. He told everyone to go to another room and close
the door. People were huddling in the corner overwhelmed with terror.
Bystanders take an injured victim of the terrorist shooting out of Café Leopold
of the gunshots filled the air, and our hearts with fear. I could
hear the owner calling the cops and requesting help. I was listening
closely for police sirens to drown out the sounds of gunshots. I was
hoping that I would hear them soon. But they never came and help never
arrived. I worried about my
friends, and I hoped that they didn't go outside. Through the window I
saw a woman being carried by two men--she had been shot in the leg. On
the other side of the Internet café, a man was lying face down on the
ground, covered in blood. He was not moving, but I could see he was
barely breathing. I tried to remain calm and wait patiently for help
I saw the two killers walk calmly and confidently past our
hideout. Each of them carried a machine gun and a backpack. They
weren't in a hurry, and they didn't wear a mask to hide their faces. I
wanted to get out and help the man that was shot, but I was not sure if
there were more gunmen. I couldn't believe that the cops were nowhere
to be found because the police station was across the street from Café
Leopold. Then I saw a car stop next to the wounded man, and the driver
and the passenger put him inside. I also saw a truck next to Café
Leopold putting injured victims in the back. I knew then that it was
safe to get out. I told the owner to unlock the door, and despite his
protest he let me out. I ran towards Café Leopold and discovered the
place had been torn apart by bullets. People were still ducking under
tables, helpless. The workers of Café Leopold stepped outside with
their hands up in their air. They didn't want people to think they
were gunmen. I was worried that the gunmen would return and open fire
at us. It
was chaos and confusion, and I couldn't believe that it was happening.
took my point and shoot camera and started taking photos.
Rediff has a slide show of photos released by the Indian Navy of the INS Tabar's engagement with Somali pirates on November 11. They show both the destruction of the pirates' mothership (above) and the helicopter action to defend the MV Jag Arnav, a merchant vessel owned by Mumbai-based Great Eastern Shipping Company (below).
The piece also reports that India is sending the INS Mysore, a Delhi-class destroyer, to replace the Tabar in region. The destroyer is larger and more heavily armed than the Tabar, which is a frigate.
In the past few weeks, the wife of the vessel's captain, Seema Goyal,
ran a relentless campaign to free the crew. On Monday, congratulatory
messages praising her efforts poured in and were splashed on television
screens all day.
The jubilant captain of the Stolt Valor spoke to his wife on the phone, and their conversation was broadcast live.
"Who do you want to see first?" a beaming Goyal asked her husband. "Me? Or the children?"
"I love you; I would like to see you first," answered the captain, Prabhat Goyal. "I had your photograph with me all the time."
Pirates imprisoned in Boosaaso's main jail, Somalia (photo by Jehad Nga)
The INS Tabar, a frigate in the Gulf of Aden, destroyed a "mothership" used by Somalia-based pirates to launch attacks by speedboat on merchant shipping in the area. The New York Times reports that at least eight ships have been attacked by Somali pirates off the Horn of Africa in the last two weeks, the most notable of which is the Saudi-owned supertanker Sirius Star, with its $100 million cargo of crude. The vessel was captured and is now being held for ransom off the coast of Somalia.
Danger Room notes that this is the Tabar's third engagement with pirates in little more than a week. The Times of India reports that the Tabar answered distress calls from Saudi- and Mumbai-based ships. Defending the Saudi vessel, the Tabar launched a Chetak helicopter with armed commandos, who fired on the pirate craft, forcing it to disengage.
India's naval presence in the region is new. The
International Maritime Bureau reports (cited in the NYTimes article) that this year, at least 92 ships have been attacked in and around the Gulf
of Aden, more than triple the number in 2007. India has joined British, American, Russian, and French naval vessels in the region, though there is no formal agreement, among the UN, NATO, or another body, on how best to coordinate the defense of merchant shipping and to reconcile security with the sovereignty of Somalia's territorial waters.
India's stake stems in part from its role in the centuries-old dhow trade, the small wooden cargo vessels that ply the Arabian Sea, the Gulf, and the Gulf of Aden, with cargo ranging from dates and grain to televisions, cooking oil, and contraband. All the major ports in the region, including Dubai, Karachi, and Kuwait, are active in the dhow trade, with most of the sailors coming from India and Pakistan. Mumbai and ports in Gujarat are home to India's dhow industry.
Gujarati sailors aboard the MSV Shree Mahalaxmi, Sharjah, UAE, 2004 (photo by Preston Merchant)
An Indian dhow with 13 crew were seized on October 25 and later released. Indian nationals also serve on the crews of vessels flagged in other countries, including the Japanese-owned chemical tanker MV Stolt Valor, which was captured by pirates in September and released on Nov. 16 after a ransom was paid. The crew of 22 was comprised of 18 Indian nationals, including the captain.
According to the Business Standard, Somalia has become the most important destination for dhow cargo since it receives no container traffic:
Today, most of the “high quality” trade happens with — take a breath
— Somalia, through the ports of Berbera and Mogadishu. It might come a
surprise but even the World Bank in its trade briefs notes that India
is the lawless country’s biggest trade partner — supplying it with
essential basic commodities such as rice, pulses, wheat, flour and
sugar and helping transport the country’s only significant export —
goats — to West Asia. And all the trade is courtesy the brave seamen
who set out from the Kutch and, to a lesser extent, from Mumbai,
Mangalore and Calicut.
“Earlier, we used to trade with Dubai but that has shrunk due to
container availability. It is only a little profitable if you go there
with over 1,000 tons. But places such as Yemen, Somalia, Eritrea and
Kenya have no container traffic,” says Qasam Ali Mohammed Moulik,
president of the Mandvi-Kutch Vahanvati Association. A ton shipped to
Somalia will cost about Rs 1,300 at the current floating freight rate.
Trade matters. According to the BBC, "about a third of India's total fleet of 900 cargo ships deployed in international waters are at risk" in the Gulf of Aden, with its access to the Suez Canal, and the INS Tabar has already escorted some 35 ships, including non-Indian ones, along the route.