Counter piracy forces from the European Union and NATO in the Gulf of Aden have liberated two pirated dhows, freeing their crews and capturing a number of suspected pirates.
On 10 August port authorities in the Somali town of Bossaaso reported the possible hijacking of a dhow. This was located off the coast of Oman by a Spanish maritime patrol aircraft operating on behalf of the European Union Naval Force’s Operation Atalanta.
The French EU Naval Force (EU Navfor) frigate La Fayette was dispatched to intercept and investigate the dhow. Early on Saturday morning an unopposed boarding found the pirates had left the dhow, leaving the vessel and the crew in good condition, according to the EU Navfor. According to the crew, the suspected pirates fled the scene on a second pirated dhow, the Bourhan Nour.
A German maritime patrol aircraft located the fleeing dhow. With this information, the EU Navfor frigate FGS Sachsen was able to intercept the second pirated dhow on Sunday evening, heading south towards the Somali coast. The Sachsen kept pressure on the suspected pirates and was joined by EU Navfor flagship ITS San Giusto and the NATO flagship HNLMS Rotterdam.
The presence and the deterrence of naval units, their helicopters and the sea craft deployed by Rotterdam, kept constant pressure on the suspected pirates preventing them to receive any aid from land or to escape to the shoreline, the EU Navfor said.
Commodore Ben Bekkering, Commander of NATO’s counter piracy mission, Operation Ocean Shield, said that, “To us it seemed highly unlikely that the pirates would want to return to Bossaaso. The authorities there make no secret of their intentions to eradicate piracy. However, to the east of Bossaaso two hijacked ships are still held by the pirates, who seem to be present in the nearby villages as well. We expected the pirates to go there, possibly asking help from their colleagues. We therefore decided to station Rotterdam off the coast, deploying her landing craft in a number of locations, effectively blocking any retreat from or support of the dhow. As expected, the dhow entered the trap. It was then up to Rotterdam.”
“For the pirates it must have been a strange site. Not just Rotterdam and FGS Sachsen from the EU Naval Force Somalia following closely, but also a helicopter and few landing craft ahead making the coast almost impossible to approach,” said Captain Huub Hulsker, Commanding Officer of HNLMS Rotterdam.
“There was not really anywhere for them to go. Obviously, the main thought is always for the safety of my crew and that of the crew of the dhow. But the situation was clear and some strict orders and two warning shots later, the suspected pirates surrendered. The boarding team was on board and in control of the vessel within the next 20 minutes. A grateful dhow crew, an impressive first action of my whole team early in my deployment and six suspected pirates detained on board, awaiting further decisions – this is a result that counts.”
“It is clear that the pirates are experiencing increasing pressure”, said Bekkering. “If they make it to the open sea, they find it increasingly difficult to stay undetected and find opportunities to attack merchant vessels. That can be credited to a broad international effort and the effective coordination between many participants. In this case, NATO and EU worked closely together. The fact that Rotterdam could execute the last step had everything to do with the team effort that preceded it.”
Successful pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean have declined recently. 33 vessels were captured by pirates in the Indian Ocean in the first half of 2011, but only three in the second half. This downward trend continued in the first quarter of 2012, as the number of reported piracy incidents and successful attacks both declined.
For 2012 the International Maritime Bureau has recorded 70 incidents of piracy and armed robbery for Somalia, involving 13 successful hijackings, as of July 29. A total of 212 hostages were captured in these hijackings.
The United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea attributed the decreasing success rate to improvements in the implementation of Best Management Practices by the shipping industry, more effective international counter-piracy naval operations, and the increasing use of private maritime security companies (PMSCs).
NATO Allies agreed on 19 March 2012 to extend Operation Ocean Shield for a further two years until the end of 2014 and to attack pirate bases on land.