Anti-piracy forces thwart pirate attacks


NATO and Iranian forces patrolling the waters off Somalia have thwarted several recent pirate attacks, including those against a UAE oil tanker and a Chinese merchant vessel.

Late last week an oil tanker from the United Arab Emirates was sailing from Bahrain to the Red Sea when it was attacked by two pirate boats, according to Iran’s Press TV. It sent out a distress call, following which ships from the Iranian navy’s 14th fleet forced the pirates to retreat.

Iran’s navy has been conducting anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden for nearly three year and has thwarted seven pirate attacks since the end of March.

Meanwhile, more details have emerged on the May 5 rescue of the MV Full City. The US Navy reports that the guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill (CG 52) boarded a suspected pirate vessel in cooperation with international forces after receiving the MV Full City’s distress call.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Organization received a distress call from the Panamanian-flagged Full City and passed the information to U.S. 5th Fleet. An Indian maritime patrol Tu-142 was able to locate the vessel, and broadcast that warships were on the way. The crew had locked themselves in a secure space from which they could control the ship, known as a ‘citadel.’

Bunker Hill and aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) were the closest naval vessels to the Full City and set course to intercept. The Turkish ship Giresun, part of NATO’s counter piracy operation Ocean Shield, also responded.

While Giresun boarded Full City, Bunker Hill approached a dhow in the area believed to be the ‘mothership’ for the pirate attack. An SH 60 Sea Hawk helicopter from Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light 49, deployed with Bunker Hill, fired warning shots to stop the dhow and instructed the suspected pirates to move to the bow of the vessel. In the early evening, a visit board, search and seizure team from Bunker Hill boarded the suspected pirate dhow.

The team found and destroyed paraphernalia on the dhow, including weapons, excessive fuel and other equipment commonly used in the commission of acts of piracy, the US Navy said. They also sank a small skiff towed by the dhow; these skiffs are often used for actual attacks and boardings by pirates.
“All hands should take pride in what they accomplished today. Under ambiguous conditions, you responded very professionally, quickly and successfully,” said Captain Dominic DeScisciolo, Bunker Hill’s commanding officer.

Giresun found Full City’s crew safe with no pirates on board the vessel.
“This operation demonstrated that our presence here successfully deters destabilizing activities and is effective in upholding lawful maritime order. The versatility inherent to a carrier strike group allowed for quick coordination with naval and Coast Guard assets from Turkey and India to successfully prevent a pirate attack against the motor vessel Full City,” said Rear Admiral Samuel Perez, commander, Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group. Bunker Hill and Carl Vinson are on a routine deployment to the U.S. 5th and 7th Fleet areas of operation.

Today the European Union Naval Force (EU Navfor) revealed details of the French warship FS Guepratte participating in counter-piracy activities on April 22. During a patrol her helicopter spotted a boat heading east, which was revealed to be a fishing dhow that had been pirated over a year ago and which was suspected of being used as a mother ship for Pirate Action Groups (PAG).

The vessel was carrying a fast attack skiff on her deck and was seen to have Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs) and small arms on board. She was suspected of carrying out a number of attacks on merchant vessels and had been used to resupply other pirate vessels in recent months.

FS Guepratte tracked the dhow from a few miles away and monitored her activity until the next morning. At dawn on 23rd April, the French warship and her helicopter closed with the suspect vessel in attempt to stop her escaping to sea and posing a real threat to merchant vessels in the area. The dhow immediately altered its course and fled westwards back towards Somalia. The frigate ordered it to stop immediately, but the vessel continued to make way towards the Somali coast.

Warning shots were fired in attempt to stop the dhow but she continued on her way. After a conversation between the suspected pirates and a Somali-speaking crewmember on the FS Guepratte, the pirates abandoned the attack skiff with its powerful outboard motor and fled back to Somalia. Fears for the wellbeing of the hostages on board the suspected pirate vessel prevented the warship from conducting any further action against the dhow.

With the PAG now disrupted, FS Guepratte monitored the dhow as she returned to Somalia to prevent her from changing course. “This disruption has undoubtedly hampered pirate action and avoided highly probable attacks on merchant and vulnerable vessels in the area,” the EU Navfor said in a statement.

The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reports that Somali pirates have attempted four hijackings so far this month. They are currently holding 30 vessels and 500 hostages.

Sail World reports that the conservation ship Steve Irwin avoided being hijacked by Somali pirates after it camouflaged itself to look like a naval vessel. It was painted a dark colour and emblazoned with a large ‘77′ on its hull to make it appear similar to a naval vessel.

According to the Sea Shepherd organisation, the Steve Irwin earlier this week safely transited the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea after being approached by three skiffs with 13 men in them. The skiffs briefly followed the Steve Irwin and a container ship nearby before backing off.

The captain of the Steve Irwin believed the pirates thought his vessel was a naval ship escorting the container vessel. The camouflage worked so well that a US military Black Hawk helicopter flew over the Steve Irwin and hailed it, believing it was a Dutch warship.