Thailand: Navy to Put Guards on Cargo Ships

The navy will deploy armed guards aboard Thai cargo vessels travelling in the Gulf of Aden under its renewed anti-piracy mission set to start in July this year, navy sources say.

The guards, to be selected from Sea-air-land (Seal) special warfare units and recon servicemen of the Royal Thai Marine Corps, will work in parallel with 369 sailors on two navy ships – HTMS Narathiwat and HTMS Similan.

The 60-strong armed guard unit will put four of its members aboard each Thai vessel to provide protection until it travels out of the piracy-prone sea lanes off Somalia.

Last year, the navy sent 351 sailors and 20 special warfare troops on HTMS Pattani and HTMS Similan to join the 28-country effort to police shipping lanes in the Gulf of Aden between September and January.

The navy mission rescued 23 Thai and Cambodian crew and a Yemeni policeman from a Thai trawler that was sunk in November of that year. The unit was also involved in an operation to help 27 Thai crewmen taken hostage on a cargo ship seized by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean in December.

But their mission was called off in January and the naval vessels were recalled before they could help the victims. All the captured Thai crewmen were later released by the pirates and returned to Thailand in April this year.

The renewed mission, with a 355-million-baht budget approved by the cabinet, is scheduled to start in July and will last three months.

In another development, navy chief Kamthorn Phumhiran has asked Germany to extend the sale period for six second-hand submarines to Thailand for another three months, pending possible approval from a new government, a source said.

The controversial plan has not yet been approved by the Defence Council, a step required before it is forwarded to the cabinet.

“The navy chief will meet the new government again to clarify the need for the submarines and to ask it to approve the deal before his retirement in September,” the source said.

Germany has agreed to reduce the price of the submarines from 7.7 billion baht to 7.5 billion baht and will ship them to Thailand in 2013 if the cabinet approves the navy’s request.

The navy claims it needs to keep abreast of submarine technology, but its plan to buy the used U-206A submarines has raised doubts if they are worth it and whether it should buy new ones from other countries.

The Defence Ministry previously asked the Foreign Affairs Ministry to comment on the plan. It replied that the purchase would bolster the relationship between Thailand and Germany, the source said.

But he said the Foreign Affairs Ministry could not tell whether or not the German submarines were good because it has no knowledge of the technology.

By Wassana Nanuam(BangkokPost)

Source: BangkokPost, May 18, 2011.


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