SOMALIA – HORN OF AFRICA – Having achieved the liberation of the crew of the Ro/Ro freighter Iceberg 1 before Christmas the forces for good achieved yet another victory in the fight against pirates before the old year passed although somewhat tempered by the not unusual outcome. What is certain is that the waters in and around parts of the Indian Ocean are far safer than they were a year or so ago.
Just twelve days after the EU Naval Force warship BNS Louise Marie apprehended five suspect pirates at sea off the Somali Coast, the Belgium frigate once again intercepted a suspect skiff 400 miles from the Somali coast after the vessel had been spotted by a Swedish EU Navfor maritime patrol aircraft. The vessel was intercepted early on the 27th December and upon arrival at the scene the warship’s boarding team was deployed to apprehend the three suspect pirates.
As with the five men caught earlier in the month however no criminal charges were brought against the suspects and in the words of an EU Navfor statement ‘After the men were taken on board BNS Louise Marie, analysis of the event was undertaken and evidence collected. Having looked at the evidence available, the decision was taken to put the men ashore on to a Somali beach.’
This outcome will again disappoint many in the shipping community but it is difficult to see what else the authorities can do given the circumstances. Many will dispute that EU Navfor lacked the prima facie evidence required to effect a prosecution but the potential miscreants are always caught in places where no nation will accept responsibility for such action. Rear Admiral Gualtiero Mattesi, the Deputy Operation Commander of the EU Naval Force summed up the situation saying:
“EU Naval Force’s continued vigilance over this period has paid dividends. BNS Louise Marie’s crew was able to quickly locate these men, and with reasonable grounds to suspect piracy, quite rightly took away their equipment that they may have used to prey on ships at sea. The EU always seeks, where possible, a legal finish, however, this time, whilst there were reasonable grounds to suspect piracy, it was felt that there was insufficient evidence to secure a prosecution. The European Union’s intent is clear - to be tough on piracy, whilst helping Somalis to regain peaceful control of their own country”.
The latter statement has now become the standard rhetoric of EU Navfor, it actually almost exactly mirrors the comments made two weeks earlier by Lieutenant Commander Jacqueline Sherriff when the last five ‘pirates’ were released and at that time the difficult position the organisation is placed in was explained by the overall Operation Commander, Rear Admiral Duncan Potts, who said:
“Once again EU Naval Force has prevented suspect pirates from preying on ships at sea. We quite rightly took away their means of carrying out attacks, such as their boat and ladder and they have been returned to the Somali Coast empty-handed and out of pocket. That said, these five men are extremely lucky individuals. The European Union rightly places a high value on life, and despite their perceived criminal intent, we were able to locate them and give much-needed food and water – rather than watch them die of starvation and dehydration.”
Rear Admiral Potts went on to say that despite this approach, seen by some as too soft when facing foes of a type who are known to have killed and tortured whenever they deemed it necessary, the forces of law and order were dedicated to being tough on piracy and emphasised once again that the key issue was restoring peaceful control of the region to the appropriate native authorities.
Photo: The three suspects see no point in resisting an obviously stronger and more determined force from the Belgian frigate. Courtesy EU Navfor.