EU Navfor captures would be pirates; frees captured dhow as attacks rise


European Union Naval Force (EU Navfor) counter-piracy forces have detained a group of pirates who attempted to attack a tanker off the coast of Somalia, just days after a Yemeni dhow was liberated from pirates and its crew released, while an Iranian vessel was hijacked off India as attacks spiked this week.

On March 26 a Hong-Kong flagged tanker was attacked whilst approximately 400 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia. The EU Naval Force warship FS Aconit was called to investigate the incident and was directed onto the fleeing pirates by a maritime patrol from Luxembourg, which recently accumulated 3 500 flights hours with EU Navfor.

The aircraft quickly located the suspects, who were towing a small skiff behind a larger seagoing whaler. The aircraft provided imagery of the vessel revealing pirate paraphernalia, EU Navfor said.

In order to conceal the evidence, it is believed the suspected pirates cut loose and sunk the smaller skiff, containing weapons, ladders and fuel.

Aconit’s Sea King helicopter intercepted and stopped the whaler on Tuesday, which had 10 suspected pirates onboard, by firing warning shots at the vessel. A team from Aconit boarded the whaler and transferred the suspects to the frigate. Two suspects received medical care by the Aconit’s medical service.

As no pirate paraphernalia was recovered the crew of the whaler were sent back to the Somali coast with only enough water and fuel for a one-way journey.

The EU Naval Force said that the French Navy frigate Aconit’s intervention made it possible to hamper the action of a complete pirate action group, thus preventing them from committing new attacks in the area.

This past week has been a busy one for pirates, who hijacked the Iranian bulk carrier MV Eglantine on Monday. The vessel was captured in the eastern Indian Ocean with 23 crew onboard. According to the Maldivian National Defence Force, it was seven miles inside the archipelago’s exclusive economic zone, marking the first attack within Maldivian territory. The ship was carrying over 63 000 tonnes of cargo when it left Brazil, the world’s biggest sugar exporter, according to shipping data.

The Somalia Report said that on Tuesday the Taiwanese fishing vessel Naham 3 was suspected to have been hijacked whilst 65 nautical miles south of the southern Seychelles.

Earlier in the week, on March 26, the EU Naval Force Flagship ESPS Patino located a Yemeni registered dhow that was suspected of being involved in acts of piracy off the Somali coast after a merchant vessel reported the previous day that it had evaded an attack by two skiffs. As she was close by, ESPS Patino was tasked to investigate the scene, and when her helicopter arrived, it located a capsized skiff, with suspected pirates embarking onto the Yemeni vessel.

The dhow, with 16 people on board, was confirmed as a suspected mother ship, previously observed at a pirate anchorage. Authorisation was given for a team from Patino to board the dhow. The 14 suspected pirates quickly surrendered to the EU Naval Forces and the two crewmembers were freed.

After coordinating with Yemeni authorities, on Tuesday the dhow and the two crewmembers were safely handed over to Yemeni Coast Guard near Yemeni territorial waters in the vicinity of Socotra Island.

The suspect pirates, who no longer had the means to carry out attacks, had to be released to return back to Somalia, EU Navfor said.

Last week the Council of the European Union confirmed its intention to extend the EU Naval Force counter-piracy mission Operation Atalanta until December 2014. At the same time the Council also extended the area of operations to include Somali coastal territory and internal waters in a major step forward in the fight against piracy. By authorising action against land bases, the EU can now get to the root of piracy and not deal with symptomatic attacks at sea.

Furthermore, the EU said the mandate extension would enable Operation Atalanta Forces to work directly with the Somali Transitional Federal Government and other Somali entities to support their fight against piracy in the coastal areas. The Somali government notified the UN Secretary General of its acceptance of the EU’s offer for the new collaboration.
“The extension of the mandate until the end of 2014 confirms the EU’s commitment to fighting piracy off the Horn of Africa,” said Rear Admiral Duncan Potts, who is the Operational Commander of the EU Naval Force. “Piracy has caused so much misery to the Somali people and to the crews of ships transiting the area and it is right that we continue to move forward in our efforts”.

According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), as of March 19 there have been 87 attacks against ships around the world this year, resulting in nine hijackings. Of those incidents, Somali pirates were responsible for 36 attacks and seven hijackings. They are currently holding 13 vessels and 197 hostages, 92 of whom were captured this year.