The European Union Naval Force has captured seven suspected pirates off the coast of Somalia and destroyed their skiff, while pirates on Africa’s west coast released a Greek-operated tanker they had earlier hijacked. Pirate activity off the Horn of Africa has been minimal during the past monsoon season, but is set to rise again now that the monsoon is over.
The European Union Naval Force (EU Navfor) said that flagship ITS San Giusto was carrying out counter-piracy patrols as part of Operation Atalanta on October 10 when it sighted a skiff carrying a ladder and up to 20 fuel drums 180 miles east of the island of Socotra. The warship immediately launched its helicopter to investigate. Once at the scene, the boarding team from San Giusto boarded the vessel and apprehended seven suspected pirates.
Speaking about the successful capture of the skiff, Rear Admiral Potts, who is the Operation Commander of the EU Naval Force said that, “This was the first sighting of a suspect pirate vessel in the Somali Basin for over three months and EU Naval Force got to it before it had a chance of carrying out an attack on ships transiting the area.”
“We knew, as the monsoon period ended this month that pirates would try their luck at sea and this is why we have constantly warned against complacency. My message to the pirates is clear – we are watching you and we plan to capture you if you put to sea. Equally, this is an indication that pirates still intend to get out to sea and all involved in countering piracy, whether they are the military or industry must remain vigilant and prepared,” Potts said.
The skiff was destroyed, thus preventing the suspect pirates from using it to attack ships in the future, the EU Navfor said.
Meanwhile, earlier in the week pirates freed a Greek-operated gasoline tanker on October 9 that they had hijacked the previous weekend in the Gulf of Guinea. The operator of the Bahamas-flagged ship reported that the crew were all safe.
The tanker Orfeas, crewed by two Greeks and 22 Filipinos, had been expected to discharge 32,000 metric tonnes of gasoline at Abidjan, Ivory Coast. But on Saturday October 6 it sailed southeast towards Nigeria with no explanation.
“Grace Management had lost contact … last Saturday and it was feared that the vessel had been hijacked. This has now been confirmed by the master,” the operator said in a statement, adding that it had been released at 1030 GMT.
“All the crew members are safe and in good health.”
The statement did not say whether the hijackers stole the fuel, as they normally would before releasing the boat.
Pirate attacks are on the rise in the Gulf of Guinea, which is second only to the waters around Somalia for piracy. Fuel ships are a favourite target, and the pirates are usually only interested in the cargo, not the hostages.
Many of the criminal gangs in pirate networks are offshoots from militant groups that used to operate in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta before they agreed an amnesty in 2009.
In August pirates attacked a Greek-operated oil tanker with a crew of about 20 off the coast of Togo. They released the ship a few days later after stealing 3,000 tonnes of fuel.