Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Stricken Container Vessel Protected Whilst Shipping Through Gulf of Aden

Box Carrier Suffers Engine Failure and Calls on the Royal Navy
Shipping News Feature

The latest pirate story to emerge from the Gulf of Aden has revealed a detailed picture of British Naval forces deployment in the region, despite the press concentration on the military reserves being held back to protect Olympic interests. With the inclement seasonal weather inhibiting pirate attacks in the Indian Ocean the criminal forces tend to concentrate in the more sheltered waters of the Gulf, or ‘Pirate Alley’ as it is often referred to, threatening merchant shipping. When a 40,000 tonne container vessel, the MV New Delhi Express, suffered engine failure on the 27th July the Royal Navy responded immediately.

Two specialist vessels were working in tandem just twelve miles north east from the stricken vessel which was drifting helplessly, HMS Pembroke is a Sandown Class mine hunter largely built from GRP and thus non magnetic and more able to survive the shocks likely to occur when doing her day job. HMS Middleton, is a Hunt Class mine countermeasures vessel used to detect, investigate and destroy sea-bed threats with the use of high powered sonar, remote underwater vehicles and divers. Both vessels were headed home when they received the distress call telling them of the merchant ships plight.

The Royal Navy has several mine-hunting ships permanently based in Bahrain, where crews work in the warmer waters which provide a different training environment compared to UK waters, and coincidentally directly opposite the Iranian coastline and close to any potential troubles in the Strait of Hormuz. The New Delhi Express is a 4200+ TEU vessel belonging to the German based Hapag Lloyd company and only seven years old, a juicy target indeed for any potential attackers belonging as she does to one of the world’s most prestigious fleets.

Knowing the box carrier would provide an easy target for any pirate gangs working in the vicinity the British ships made contact with the New Delhi Express and readied their weapons maintaining a patrol around her for several hours, protecting her crew and cargo against potential attack until she had fixed her engines and was able to continue north. HMS Middleton’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Steve Higham, said:

“The threat from piracy in the Gulf of Aden is real and present. MV New Delhi Express, disabled and without power, was a potential prime target for pirates. Middleton and Pembroke responded immediately to provide assistance when called by her master, and were able to offer protection whilst he completed his repair. Our small contribution to maintaining the safety of the maritime community shows the value and flexibility of the Royal Navy’s mine hunting community.”

Photo: The drifting MV New Delhi Express in the Gulf of Aden on Friday, picture taken from HMS Middleton courtesy of the Royal Navy/MOD