Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Pirates Dead And Hostages Freed As More Freight Vessels Attacked

Update on Somali Situation
Shipping News Feature

SOMALIA – GULF OF ADEN – Since our last report on the 6th May when EU Navfor announced the introduction of their new integrated maritime monitoring service (MARSURV) to allow tracking of container and bulk freight shipping in the danger area, there has been news of several interesting incidents involving merchant vessels terminating with the death of four pirates and the rescue of sixteen hostages.

An attack on a Chinese bulk carrier, flagged in Panama the MV Full City, a vessel already notorious after a serious oil spill incident off the Norwegian coast in 2009, was thwarted after just about everybody in the local anti pirate community responded to a distress signal on the 5th May. Operation Ocean Shield, the NATO defence force swung into action and, as the crew sheltered in a safe room an Indian navy plane located the vessel which unleashed the might of both US and Turkish navies.

In addition to the Indian navy, respondents apparently included the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill, the Turkish navy’s destroyer TCG Giresun, a Seahawk helicopter plus two unconfirmed reports of Chinese warships, all of which left the pirates in a slightly uncertain situation.

No official confirmation has been received but it appears the Turkish troops boarded the Full City but the raiders had fled, a suspect dhow nearby was boarded by US forces from the Bunker Hill and pirate paraphernalia including weapons, fuel and a towed skiff destroyed; one assumes the pirates were released as is so often the case when they are not caught red handed.

On the same day the container ship Ital Glamour, operated by Italia Marittima SPa, a subsidiary of Taiwan based Evergreen Line, was attacked by between four and six pirates who fired on her with rocket propelled grenades and small arms from a skiff running alongside. The 3,500 TEU cargo vessel responded with fire hoses and evasive manoeuvres until the criminals broke off the attack. Later in the day a helicopter from the EU naval force, the ITS Espero, landed aboard the larger vessel to disarm an unexploded grenade round so the cargo ship could continue its voyage.

On the 10th May we received a report from NATO’s task force supporting Operation Ocean Shield (the NATO anti piracy mission) that the USS Bainbridge had spotted a dhow attempting to slip away from the Somali coast under cover of darkness. The American surveillance systems proving more than a match for the smaller ship, the Bainbridge followed at a suitable distance before launching a boarding party as dawn broke, covered by her Seahawk helicopter.

The pirates were surprised and surrendered resulting in the release of the dhow’s fifteen strong Pakistani crew who had apparently been held captive for over six months. A search discovered seven Somali pirates on board as well as seven fully loaded AK47 assault rifles, two Rocket Propelled Grenade launchers, seven grenades, and several ammunition canisters as well as ladders and grappling hooks used to climb aboard ships that are to be attacked. The pirates confirmed that they had replenished the day before with ten barrels of fuel. This tied in with earlier observations by the NATO warship which had seen several dhows at the pirate camp exchanging fuel barrels with small skiffs.

All of the pirate paraphernalia and weapons were safely disposed of by the boarding team. Meanwhile, the crew of the dhow were given medical checks and sufficient diesel fuel to finally return to their homes after being held captive for so long. The fate of the pirates is unknown at this time but it is to be hoped that justice will be seen to be done, unlike the recent case involving a Finnish warship covered in our 6th May article.

Saturday the 14th May saw another EU Navfor vessel, the French frigate FS Nivôse involved in a dramatic stand off with a pirate gang who only stopped the progress of their stolen dhow when fired upon. The dhow is suspected to have acted as a mother ship in several pirate attacks and had been spotted by a German reconnaissance aircraft and pursued by a helicopter from the French ship. Having stopped the ship the EU forces were unable to attack due to the presence of the dhow’s original crew who were being held as hostages.

Eventually a deal was struck with the pirates forced to jettison two attack skiffs in return for being allowed to proceed, complete with captives, toward the Somali coast. Yet again many in the shipping community have expressed feelings that justice has failed to be done, particularly as the hostages, not coming from a high profile capture, still face an uncertain future. Less than twenty four hours later another dhow was spotted by the EU Navfor fleet vessel NRP Vasco da Gama, a 3,500 tonne Portuguese frigate. Once again shots were fired from the naval vessel and her helicopter to stop the dhow and the pirates warned to turn about for the Somali coast, which they did. Once again the presence of hostages rendered the forces of law impotent and prevented the capture of the suspects.

The latest case is somewhat different after the HDMS Esbern Snare, a Danish warship often involved in pirate related activity, was herself attacked last Thursday the 12th May by a vessel described as a pirate mother ship. The Danes immediately reacted with returning fire causing panic amongst the pirate gang who threw their weapons overboard after four of their number had been killed.

A boarding party from the naval ship then arrested the twenty four remaining pirates, ten of whom were injured, and freed sixteen Iranian hostages thus beating the ship’s own record after she arrested sixteen pirates during a similar incident last February. Readers can see a video produced by the EU anti piracy force HERE.

Photo: The arms cache captured from 'suspected' pirates in a recent incident.