SOMALIA – GULF OF ADEN – INDIAN OCEAN - Although attacks continue against all types of shipping transiting the waters of the Somali coast including bulk freighters, oil tankers and the occasional container ship it appears many of the current wave of attempted hijacks are against the easier shipping targets provided by smaller vessels particularly fishing boats.
The effectiveness of the NATO and EU Navfor tactics is demonstrated by the number of skiffs confiscated and the few successful attacks on vessels adhering to Best Management Practices (BMP) but it seems the pirates may for now have found a more formidable enemy. Any regular reader knows of the terror for would be pirates if their pursuit includes the involvement of Russian, Chinese or Indian security forces whose personnel and methods of dealing with the criminals tend often to be a little less subtle and rehabilitative than those of the Western Navies.
In the past few weeks however a new naval force has appeared and it seems their watchword is direct action. On the 26th March there occurred the first major pirate attack off the Maldives when the Cypriot flagged cargo vessel MV Eglantine was taken. This followed incidents last year in which 30 or so suspected pirates were incarcerated by the Maldive authorities after being found drifting off the coast in various vessels. What the pirates weren’t to know of course was the ship was actually Iranian owned and loaded with cargo of an unspecified nature headed for Iran.
The 23, principally Filipino, crew were held hostage and the vessel headed for Somalia until intercepted by an Iranian naval vessel when a gunfight ensued. The pirates reportedly tried to use the crew as human shields but in the battle two Filipinos were killed and the rest of the crew rescued. All the pirates were captured, supposedly 12 or 13 of them, and taken aboard the Iranian ship where their fate is currently unknown.
This action may well have influenced the second incident which occurred when the Panamanian flagged Xiang Hua Men, en route from Shanghai, was captured off the Iranian coast. The vessel, a multi purpose general cargo and container carrier owned by the Nanjing Ocean Shipping Co., was taken with her crew of 28 and the incident immediately prompted the Chinese, to demand Iranian intervention. Two warships intercepted the vessel on the 6th April shortly after her capture and Iranian commandos stormed the Xiang Hua Men.
The nine pirates aboard capitulated immediately, throwing their weapons overboard and leaving the Chinese crew unharmed to continue to towards a port in southwest Iran. According to local reports the pirate included a known Puntland based pirate leader known as Garaad who is accused of at least one previous hijack which netted several million dollars in ransom making him an elite figure with his cohorts. Garaad is said to be in his forties and apparently claims he was trained by British security specialists Hart. The security forces in Puntland have caused many difficulties for pirates settled in the area lately and scored several notable successes themselves and the extension of the EU Navfor mandate to allow attacks on pirate land bases is also believed to be having an effect.
Working to the maxim that a picture is worth a thousand words the efforts now being made to deter would be hijackers can be illustrated best by a recent article in Foreign Policy magazine which you can see HERE. The piece contains numerous photographs by Amnon Gutman who followed an Israeli security company, Seagull Security, as its employees prepared and staffed an oil tanker transiting the danger zone.
Photo: Iranian forces aboard a fast attack craft.