The Indian Navy on Friday said that it has responded to the hijacking of a Liberian-flagged merchant ship with 15 Indian crew in the Arabian Sea.

The vessel MV Lila Norfolk had sent a message to the United Kingdom Marine Trade Operations portal on Thursday evening indicating that five to six unknown armed persons had boarded the ship.

The Navy said that it has diverted warship INS Chennai, which is deployed in the region, to the merchant ship. Additionally, a maritime patrol aircraft flew over the vessel on Friday morning to establish contact and ascertain the safety of the crew.

“Naval aircraft continues to monitor movement and INS Chennai is closing the vessel to render assistance,” the Navy said. “The overall situation is being closely monitored, in coordination with other agencies/MNF [multi-national force] in the area.”

Friday’s development comes amid a spate of similar hijacking attempts in the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea.

On December 16, the Indian Navy had deployed a maritime patrol aircraft and its warship in response to a hijacking incident in the Gulf of Aden involving a Malta-flagged vessel, MV Reun, with 18 crew on board.

Since November, the Houthi movement, a Yemen-based military organisation backed by Iran, has claimed responsibility for several attacks on commercial shipping in the region. The attacks have increased navigation risks along the crucial international maritime route.

On December 23, a Liberian-flagged chemical tanker MV Chem Pluto had suffered a drone strike. The tanker, carrying a crew of 21 Indians and a Vietnamese, was hit by a drone off India’s western coast when it was on its way to the New Mangalore port.

The same day, a Gabon-flagged oil tanker with 25 Indian crew was also attacked by a drone in the southern Red Sea.

The attacks disrupting maritime traffic are seen as a response to Israel’s war on Gaza. More than 21,000 Palestinians, including at least 8,000 children, have been killed since October 7. The war was triggered by the attack on southern Israel by Palestinian militant group Hamas that killed 1,200 people. The militant group had also taken more than 200 hostages.