Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pirates Convicted After Failing To Tell Freight From Frigate

More NATO Success as Gang Who Launched ill Conceived Attack Pay the Price
Shipping News Feature

US – SOMALIA – For the first time in almost two centuries an American jury has convicted a pirate gang who now face the prospect of life imprisonment. The trial currently underway in Germany of another pirate crew continues, after criticism from several quarters who claim the likely outcome of four or five years gaol time followed by possible asylum will suit the accused penniless Somalis. No such luxury for the five men found guilty today on fourteen charges after a two week trial.

Two days of deliberations produced a guilty verdict which carries mandatory life sentences. Such a period of incarceration in an American institution will not be considered an easy option by most. The pirate gang have nobody but themselves to blame for their current plight. In a farcical set of circumstances they attacked what they perceived to be an innocent freight vessel in their 18 foot skiff, firing assault rifles and causing damage to persuade what they thought would be a terrified crew to slow and allow them to board.

In fact the subject of their attack was the USS Nicholas, a frigate on anti pirate patrol several hundred miles off the African coast during April. Needless to say a short pursuit followed which was only ever going to have one outcome. This trial is likely to precede a similar US prosecution after another pirate pleaded guilty in August to a similar attack on yet another US warship, again in April, which resulted in the detention of the man and five of his colleagues who have been remanded in custody.

Meanwhile NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield has scored several successes in the past 24 hours including the sinking of a pirate ‘mother ship’ by a lynx helicopter from the British warship HMS Montrose. The helicopter crew spotted a pirate whaler anchored off a known pirate camp and it was quickly identified as the whaler from MV Zouflecar, which has been acting as a pirate ‘mother ship’ since it was taken by pirates on 3rd November. With permission granted to destroy the pirate whaler as she hovered above, Royal Marine snipers fired and sank it with their M3M 50 calibre machine gun in full view of the pirate camp.

Commanding Officer of the Montrose, Commander Jonathan Lett RN said:

“HMS Montrose has been patrolling off the Somali coast for some time and we know how the pirates operate. Our destruction of the whaler close to a known pirate camp has sent a message to the Somali Pirates, that NATO and other coalition forces are willing to take the fight to them in order to prevent them attacking merchant ships”.

In other actions during the early hours of yesterday morning the master of bulk carrier MV Carmencita put out a may-day call to say his ship was being attacked by a group of pirates in the Indian Ocean. Danish warship Esbern Snare the flag ship for NATO’s counter piracy operation  'Ocean Shield' and which has featured before in these reports, responded immediately by launching her helicopter to over fly the scene and let the pirates know that a NATO warship was on her way to assist the terrified crew.

The master relayed to HDMS Esbern Snare that his crew would be going to their safe room, while he tried to use evasion techniques to fend off the attackers - who had fired rocket propelled grenades and AK-47 gunfire at the ship. The pirates broke off the attack and fled in their small attack skiffs towards a larger dhow, which had previously been hijacked with hostages on board, and was now being used as a supply mother ship. The pirates dragged one of the attack skiffs onboard the mother ship, and took the second skiff under tow.

During the day Esbern Snare shadowed the pirated dhow to ensure the pirates were not able to attack other ships, and last night, under the cover of darkness, a boarding team from Esbern Snare seized the attack skiff that was being towed behind. Unable to now carry out coordinated attacks, the pirates returned to the Somali coast. The seized attack skiff was subsequently destroyed by Esbern Snare’s crew.

On the same morning seven more pirates were spotted by a helicopter from a Dutch warship the HNLMS Amsterdam whilst speeding along the coast in a twin engined skiff. Despite fleeing ashore to avoid capture the pirates emerged late last night to where the Amsterdam had remained, suspecting such a course of action. The men aboard the skiff were seen to throw a pirate ladder overboard and were stopped when the Dutch crew ‘disabled the skiff’s engines’ and then boarded the suspect vessel where more pirate paraphernalia was discovered.

It is believed this latest gang were held for questioning along with 13 more arrested last Friday over suspicions that they are members of the same gang who kidnapped two South African yachtsmen last month.

Photo: A Lynx from the HMS Montrose enjoys target practice