Monday, January 24, 2011

Pirate Update - Two Freight Ships Recaptured By Military After Gunfights - Eight Killed

Video Shows the Storming of a Captive Vessel - But What Happens Next to Captured Hijackers?
Shipping News Feature

SOMALIA – It seems the navies in some parts of the world have grown a little tired of the continuing attacks on merchant shipping and this week, before detailing the usual tally of captured freighters, tankers and assorted vessels which we have become used to, there are two cases where the authorities decided enough was enough and opened fire on the miscreants regardless of consequences, capturing the pirates and leaving the politicians of two countries with the problem of what to do next.

We reported last week how the MV Samho Jewelry was taken just as her bigger fleet sister was being released after a massive ransom payment following months in captivity. What we didn’t report at the time was that we had information that the South Korean navy was shadowing the ship from just beyond the horizon waiting for an opportunity.

It seems the powers that be in South Korea felt the immediate capture of the second ship was an insult too far and, nearly six days after she was taken, the ship was seized by South Korean troops during which the merchant vessels captain was shot in the stomach. Eight of the pirates were reported killed during the attack and you can view a video of the rescue taken from the deck of the warship Young Choi HERE.

The five pirates captured by South Korean forces in the attack are reportedly on board the Young Choi which is shadowing the Samho Jewelry and her crew, heading for port, whilst the wounded skipper has been transferred to hospital in Oman. Now the South Koreans have to make the decision of what to do with their captives as they have no formal agreement to land them for prosecution in any neighbouring state.

The same problem faces another Government after the Royal Malaysian Navy rescued the tanker MT Bunga Laurel, together with her twenty three strong crew, on the same day (Friday21st January) after a gun battle with pirates who had seized the ship just two hours earlier. The naval vessel was carrying elite troops and was in the area specifically to protect Malaysian craft transiting the Gulf of Aden. Two hours after the ship was taken a helicopter attack ended with seven pirates captured and the vessel and crew unharmed.

The South Koreans have come under criticism from some quarters for what appears to have been a fairly risky operation putting those aboard the merchant vessel in some danger, but the crew of the Malaysian flagged Bunga Laurel had immediately taken refuge in the ships safe room or ‘citadel’ even as they reported the attack by radio.

It appears that because no country has accepted the responsibility for prosecuting the pirates they will probably end up in South Korean and Malaysian gaols. Previously Kenya has successfully tried and incarcerated those found guilty of piracy in the Gulf but reports indicate that the Kenyan authorities are unhappy that financial assistance they had been promised for accepting these cases has not been forthcoming.

Successful prosecutions have been undertaken in the Seychelles and the Netherlands previously and it will be interesting to see what happens after this latest twist in an ongoing and depressing saga. There are fears abroad that prosecution and incarceration in some countries might even be seen to be a reasonable option by captured hijackers. Meanwhile, whilst the reasonable weather off the East African coast persists there are more sorry tales to report and one release of a captured vessel.

On the 16th January the Greek owned, Marshall Islands flagged, MV Motivator was freed following her capture on the 4th July and the subsequent incarceration of her 18 Filipino crew. The release occurred approximately 160 nautical miles South- West of the island of Socotra near to the coast of Somalia and was obviously the result of a negotiation as the EU Navfor warship FS Jacoubet was standing by to assist and troops from the SPS Canarias landed by helicopter to help the crew of the freighter immediately on her release.

The following day, the 17th saw another Greek owned ship, the bulk carrier MV Eagle attacked with rocket propelled grenades and small arms fire around 500 miles South of Salalah, Oman. The 52,000 dwt, Cypriot flagged vessel was seized by the pirate gang who were aboard a single skiff together with her twenty four man crew whilst in transit to India. The vessel is believed to be heading for the Somali coast.

Thursday the 20th January saw a 23,000 tonne bulk carrier, the MV Hoang Son Sun taken by pirates, once again about 500 miles south of Oman. The bulk carrier was reportedly on a voyage from Bandar Iman Khomeini for Hualien and little is known about the incident. She is reported in other press as Mongolian flagged and Vietnamese owned but we believe she may be Thai flagged with a Vietnamese crew of twenty four.

On the same day the bulk carrier MV Khaled Muhieddine K, a Togo flagged, Syrian owned 24,000dwt bulk carrier was taken 350 miles South East of Salalah together with her 22 Syrian and 3 Egyptian crew after an armed assault by pirates whilst en route from Singapore to Yemen. Nothing else has been heard of her since the attack.

With the weather due to deteriorate any day out in the Gulf of Aden it is likely that, following patterns of recent years the long range assaults, which the authorities have found it so difficult to cope with, may peter out and the Somali pirates will revert to attacking shipping closer to their land bases. The widespread use of ‘mother ships’ during the past few months means however that precautions should always be taken by shipping anywhere in the current attack zone

Photo: Courtesy of EU Navfor whose personnel are seen boarding the MV Motivator to assist her crew.