I have a post over at the SAJA Forum about the Somali pirates provoking an Indian navy frigate in the Gulf of Aden. India is keen to protect its maritime interests in the region, which includes safe passage for its dhows. Dhows are the traditional wooden cargo vessels that ply the waters from the Horn of Africa to the eastern shores of the Arabian Sea and throughout the Gulf. India's dhow trade, which is centuries old, is based primarily in Gujarat.
In 2004, I spent a few days with the men of MSV Shree Mahalaxmi, which was docked in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates as it took on its cargo of grains for transport to Kuwait. After stopping there, it would pick up dates from Iraq, and make for other ports. They only returned to India to pick up or discharge cargo, and the journey across the Arabian Sea under sail could take as long as five days.
The crew described a vagabond lifestyle at sea, often spending long stretches in port as they waited for trucks to arrive with new cargo. Since the Mahalaxmi was a very small dhow (some 75 feet long), its only mechanism for moving heavy objects was a block and tackle. Most of the materials had to be loaded by hand.
The men were all from the village of Bet on the Gujarati coast, and most were related by blood or marriage. They maintained all the customs of village India -- serving guests (me) tea, removing their chappals before entering the wheelhouse (which was also the captain's quarters), and enjoying a common meal of chicken and rice after going to the mosque on Friday.