Monday, January 20, 2014

First Pirate Attack on Shipping in 2014 Results in Comprehensive Defeat - for the Would Be Hijackers  

Villains First Thwarted Then Chased Down and Arrested

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GULF OF ADEN – SOMALIA – Time was, not so long ago, that it seemed we were reporting a pirate attack in the region virtually every day. Now with the enhanced efforts to deter would be attackers the first attempted hijack of 2014 hopefully sets out the future for bulk freighters, container ships and passenger liners going about their normal business with the tale of a double whammy for the bad guys.

On Friday (17 January) just two days after the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) released figures showing a mere 15 incidents were reported off Somalia in 2013, down from 75 in 2012, and 237 in 2011, came an attack on an oil tanker transiting the Gulf. The unnamed ship immediately contacted the UK Maritime Trade Operation (UKMTO) as small arms fire rained inward. The vessel was however carrying its own private security team who stated that they had offered a ‘graduated response’ which rapidly escalated to what they refer to as ‘robust’.

This violent reaction was enough to scare off the miscreants who were operating from a skiff with a dhow acting as its mother ship. This follows the end to 2013 when we saw at least four attacks in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden after the end of the monsoon season, all of which ended in similar fashion. Life for the would-be pirates however in this case was going to get even more difficult.

The distress call had nudged the dragon into life in the form of the French EU Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) Somalia Operation Atalanta flagship FS Siroco, ably supported by Japanese naval assets in the region. A Japanese Maritime Patrol Aircraft and a helicopter from the Japanese vessel JS Samidare initially located the dhow enabling the Siroco to close distance to the dhow and launch their helicopter and boarding team. Upon nearing the dhow, the helicopter crew and boarding team observed that people on board the dhow were throwing equipment over board, deepening the suspicion that the dhow was indeed the reported pirate mother-ship.

Once aboard, the crew were questioned closely and the master’s initial statement supported the suspicion that his dhow has been pirated and his crew taken hostage several days previously off the coast of Somalia. He also stated that the suspect pirates were responsible for the attack on the oil tanker the day before and the suspects, who had already been identified as the likely criminals after they surrendered and transferred to the French ship, were formally detained to be considered for prosecution. EU NAVFOR Force Commander, Rear Admiral Hervé Bléjean, commented:

“Thanks to an exceptionally effective international cooperation, we showed once more that there will be no safe haven for piracy in the area as long as Counter Piracy Forces remain fully dedicated to their task. I also congratulate FS Siroco with this success.”

Photo: An EU NAVFOR RIB circles the Dhow as boarding teams search the vessel.

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