Iran sends two warships to confront Somali pirates


Iran has sent two warships to the Gulf of Aden to protect oil tankers and other vessels from the world’s fifth-largest crude exporter against attacks by pirates off the coast of Somalia, state radio said earlier today.

Pirate attacks, fuelled by large ransoms, have continued almost unabated despite the presence of an armada of foreign warships patrolling the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden, Reuters says.

In January, pirates released an Iranian-chartered cargo ship carrying 36,000 tonnes of wheat to Iran from Germany that was seized in November. In March, a regional maritime official said Somali villagers had detained another Iranian vessel.

“The mission of these warships is to protect Iranian merchant ships and oil tankers against pirate attacks,” state radio said.

They would arrive in the Gulf of Aden in the next two days and stay there for five months, state television said.

Iran said in December it had dispatched a warship to the same waters, but the reports did not say whether it was still there.

Nearly 20 000 ships pass through the Gulf of Aden each year, heading to and from the Suez Canal. Seven percent of world oil consumption passed through the Gulf of Aden in 2007, according to Lloyd’s Marine Intelligence Unit.

Analysts say the only way to stop bandits on the high seas is to resolve Somalia‘s political crisis on land where pirates profit from lawlessness as Islamist-led rebels fight government troops and African Union peacekeepers.

Meanwhile, Reuters adds a South Korean destroyer helped rescue an Egyptian ship that had been targeted by pirates off the coast of Somalia.

A team of South Korean snipers boarded a military helicopter that took off from the “Munmu the Great’s” deck and flew over the suspected hijackers who were 1.8 km (1.2 miles) from the Egyptian ship, officials said in Seoul.

The incident that took place last night.

A US Navy vessel also joined the operation after it was reported by the South Koreans to a joint task force.

The South Korean destroyer began patrolling around the Gulf of Aden in April in what military officials said was the country’s first naval mission abroad.

In another development, Reuters adds European Union naval force tackling piracy off Somalia‘s coast is reinforcing security procedures after a report that gangs are using information from London to plan attacks.

British Rear Admiral Philip Jones said he was “bemused” by the report, which was broadcast by a Spanish radio station. He said the EU force’s headquarters in northwest London kept tight control of shipping intelligence and there was no indication any of its operations had been compromised.

“We are assuming, if anything at all, that when reports are made about London, we are talking about elements of the Somalian diaspora in London and the way it builds its information,” Jones told a news briefing in Brussels.

“But we are redoubling our efforts to make sure there is no way in which information we promulgate to merchant shipping companies and information they make available to us becomes widely available outside the protected and secure channels in which we use it at the moment.

Spain‘s Cadena Ser radio quoted a European military intelligence report on Monday as saying Somali gangs had built up a network of informants in London with access to sensitive data from shipping firms about vessels, routes and cargoes.

It said the gangs received information by satellite phone and used sophisticated equipment to locate targets. It listed several attacks in which the groups surprised crew with detailed information, including the nationalities of those on board.

Western nations have sent warships to try to stop Somali groups which have made millions of dollars extorting ransoms from ships and their crews in strategic shipping lanes off the Horn of Africa that connect Europe to Asia.

Jones said this week’s report was “a useful wake-up call to check that our procedures are robust in this area”.

He said the EU operation, codenamed Atalanta, was investigating the origin of the report but added: “There’s no indications we’ve had of any compromise to any of the operations we are setting up.”

Jones said no information had been found on any of the Somali gangs’ vessels that had been captured to link them to any source of information about merchant ships in London.

“There is no evidence of that whatsoever,” he said.