HMS Westminster delivers blow to Indian Ocean piracy


The Royal Navy vessel HMS Westminster has, in the space of a fortnight, thwarted the activities of three pirate groups, destroying their boats and preventing them from carrying out attacks.

In each case the Portsmouth-based warship deployed her Merlin helicopter to send the pirate skiffs to the bottom of the Indian Ocean after pirates on board had tried – but failed – to hijack merchant shipping in the area.

When deployed to the incidents the Merlin helicopter’s crew invariably found the small craft crammed with weapons, extra fuel, ladders and other pirate paraphernalia.

On seeing the Merlin, with Royal Marines Commando snipers in the back, not to mention a heavily armoured Type 23 frigate steaming towards them, the suspects began ditching their pirate paraphernalia over the sides of their boats, the UK Ministry of Defence reports.

In the face of such overwhelming force, the suspects themselves immediately surrendered and Westminster’s boarding team of Royal Marines and Royal Navy personnel secured them while evidence was gathered for the authorities in Combined Task Force 151, the international naval group to which HMS Westminster is currently assigned.

With the boarding and inspection complete, the pirates’ vessels were destroyed – boats, fuel, engines, communications kit, weaponry – by the guns of the Merlin, or the guns of Westminster herself.

Lieutenant Commander Kay Burbidge, Senior Observer of 829 Naval Air Squadron who is currently embarked aboard Westminster with the ship’s Merlin flight, said that, “They have nowhere to hide and, as the pictures show, we also have the hardware to really spoil their day! With the Merlin’s superior endurance and sophisticated sensors we can cover large areas of ocean to search for pirates and smugglers.”

Her ship is now nearly at the halfway point of her east of Suez patrol, having already sailed more than 18,000 miles (29,000km) keeping the sea lanes safe.

Last month she dealt another high-profile blow to criminal activities in the region when she snared £14 million worth of drugs on a dhow.

Westminster’s triple counter-piracy success came in March, before the EU Naval Force struck at pirate bases in Somalia.

A helicopter from one of the nine warships assigned to Operation Atalanta, the European Union anti-piracy mission which is currently commanded by the UK’s Rear Admiral Duncan Potts, struck at ‘supplies on the shoreline’, attacking from the air; no personnel went in on the ground:
“The action against pirate supplies on the shoreline is merely an extension of the disruption actions carried out against pirate ships at sea and Operation Atalanta remains committed to fighting piracy off the Horn of Africa and the humanitarian mission of protecting World Food Programme ships that bring vital aid to the Somali people,” said Rear Admiral Potts.
“We believe this action by the EU Naval Force will further increase the pressure on and disrupt pirates’ efforts to get out to sea to attack merchant shipping and dhows. The local Somali people and fishermen, many of whom have suffered so much because of piracy in the region, can be reassured that our focus was on known pirate supplies and will remain so in the future.”