A British task team has destroyed a boat that was being used by pirates off the coast of Somalia to attack merchant ships. Royal Marines, assigned to the Plymouth-based frigate HMS Montrose, fired their machine guns at the pirate vessel as they hovered above it in the warship’s Fleet Air Arm Lynx helicopter, the UK DoD says in a statement.
The incident took place during a routine patrol off the Somali coast yesterday, when the helicopter identified the suspect boat as the whaler from MV Aly Zoulfecar, which had been acting as a pirate ‘mother ship’ since it was hijacked on 3 November 2010.
The whaler was anchored off a known pirate camp and, once permission had been given to take it out, the Royal Marines marksmen fired their M3M .50-calibre machine guns and destroyed it, the statement explained.
HMS Montrose’s commanding officer, Commander Jonathan Lett, says his ship “has been patrolling off the Somali coast for some time and we know how the pirates operate. Our destruction of the whaler close to a known pirate camp has sent a message to the Somali pirates that NATO and other coalition forces are willing to take the fight to them in order to prevent them from attacking merchant ships.” HMS Montrose is operating off the Somali coast as part of NATO’s counter-piracy operation, OCEAN SHIELD.
According to Sky News, senior British commanders and other sources in the Ministry of Defence have warned the goverment of Prime Minister David Cameron not to underestimate the threat posed by Somali pirates saying that they fear the recent increase in attacks in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean could result in the UK’s gas and oil supplies being disrupted, causing a rise in prices over the winter.
The Royal Navy and its supporters are also lobbying for the new Nimrod MRA4 marine reconnaissance aircraft project to be brought back to life.
Earlier this month the European Union anti-piracy task force rescued a South African yachtsman after he was left behind by Somali pirates who were trying to hijack his yacht. Two crew members, both South African, were taken onshore as hostages.
Somali pirates typically hijack merchant vessels, take the ships to coastal towns they control and hold them until a ransom is paid. As ransoms are usually in the millions of dollars, the lucrative trade has continued despite foreign naval patrols. According to the International Maritime Board, ship hijackings hit a five-year high of 39 in the first nine months of the year — 35 of them carried out by Somali pirates. At least 31 vessels and 541 hostages remain in Somali pirate hands in several locations, according to the latest report by Ecoterra International, a piracy monitoring group.