The career of a suspected pirate action group in the Indian Ocean came to an end when Royal Marines boarded their mother ship and arrested 13 modern-day buccaneers.
It took a team of commandos from support ship RFA Fort Victoria – home to a British counter-piracy task force – to finally bring a halt to the pirates’ actions, after they’d ignored a string of warnings signalled by the ship and Lynx, including numerous shots across their bows.
It’s the second time in four days Fort Vic – operating under the banner of NATO’s anti-piracy mission, Operation Ocean Shield – has thwarted Somali pirates.
Earlier this week it drove back a hijacked vessel after it attempted to sortie into shipping lanes.
In this latest success, Fort Victoria was operating with the American destroyer USS Carney, sent to investigate a dhow which was believed to be in the hands of pirates and had been sailing in Indian Ocean shipping lanes.
In a combined show of force, both RFA Fort Victoria and USS Carney manoeuvred towards the dhow, with the aim of encouraging her to comply with the counter piracy forces.
These actions should have been intimidating, given the size of the two military vessels – the American destroyer bristles with guns and missiles, while Fort Victoria is more than 650ft long, weighs 32,000 tonnes and carries a specially-trained commando boarding team – but the pirates were determined to carry on with their activities.
That led to more forceful action from Fort Vic, which sent her Lynx aloft with Royal Marine snipers in the back.
The helicopter gave numerous clear warnings to the suspects to stop – including firing flares and bursts of fire from the snipers across the bows of the pirate boat.
Despite these measures, the action group – a dhow and skiff – failed to comply with repeated instructions to stop and verify her intentions. That resulted in Royal Marines in speedboats approaching the vessel and successfully boarded it. The pirates surrendered as the commandos secured control and rounded them up on the forecastle.
Thirteen Somali pirates were found to be on board together with a selection of weapons.
“The moment of going on board the dhow was tense as we knew there were pirates on board who had refused to stop despite our warning shots,” said Capt James Sladden RM, Officer in Charge of the Fleet Standby Rifle Squadron aboard Fort Victoria.
“Through our weapon sights we could see there were about 13 pirates, mostly gathered in the area of the bridge. We quickly boarded and secured the vessel before mustering the pirates on the bow.”
Capt Gerry Northwood, the naval officer heading the task force on Fort Vic, said the “firm and positive action” his team had taken “will send a clear message to other Somali pirates that we will not tolerate their attacks on international shipping.
“This was a well-executed operation by NATO forces to locate a known Somali pirate group that was operating in international shipping lanes of the Indian Ocean.”
Capt Shaun Jones RFA, the support ship’s commanding officer, said it had taken considerable skill from his sailors to manoeuvre the ship at speed up to the nimble pirate boat.
“I am extremely proud of the way in which my crew and helicopter in tandem with embarked Royal Marines were able to successfully capture these Somali pirates.
“My team were never found wanting. The 13 Somalis certainly found Friday 13th unlucky for them!”
The actions of the task group were immediately praised by Defence Secretary Philip Hammond:
“This operation off the coast of Somalia is a clear demonstration of Britain’s ability to tackle piracy that threatens our interests.
“The Royal Navy and Royal Marines are playing a crucial role in securing and protecting international sea lanes that are vital to global trade. The Royal Navy and Royal Marines can be proud of this successful interception.”
World Maritime News Staff, January 16, 2012; Image: RoyalNavy