maritime piracy

A group of pirates foiled near the Somali coast. 12 suspects arrested (upd3)

(credit: French Ministry of Defence)

(BRUSSELS2 exclusive) The anti-piracy forces of the European Union and NATO have foiled the activity of a pirate group which was operating near the Somali coast, according to our information. A merchant ship was, in fact, attacked by a pirate skiff on Saturday (January 5) off the coast of Somalia, at approximately 3° north and 51° east, near Ceeldhere (Galguduud region), between Somalia and Seychelles. Six pirates were on board the skiff, armed with light weapons and an RPG-type rocket launcher. The crew of the MSC Jasmine — a Cypriot container ship flying the Panamanian flag — took refuge in the citadel. And the team of private guards on board sprung into action. Exchanges of gunfire took place, no personnel were injured on board the ship (it is not yet known whether pirates may have been injured). The ship managed to escape continuing its route towards Mombasa. But the report of the skiff was given. After alert and spotting by the maritime patrol plane, the pirate skiff as well as the mother ship could be boarded.

Combined air-sea, Franco-American-German operation

(Maj) The attack was belatedly confirmed by the HQ of the EU operation “Atalanta”. More details were thus able to be given. First it is the helicopter of the American ship USS Halyburton (FFG-40) of Operation Ocean Shield, which intervened. It was only 80 miles from the site of the attack (260 miles from the coast). He was thus able to locate the suspect skiff with several men on board: it was the mother ship. An American team aboard a RHIB therefore intervened to keep them under arrest on their boat. The French frigate Surcouf (F-711) – and its British Lynx helicopter – approached at high speed. She had just stopped at Port Victoria in the Seychelles on Thursday. She covered 200 miles in a few hours, arriving in the early morning at the area where she could take over.

The important work of the P3 Orion

As my colleague Thomas Wiegold, from Augergeradeaus, notable scouting work was carried out by the German P3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft. For the Bundeswehr team, based in Djibouti, it was a day of rest. But as soon as the alarm was given, they took to the air. In less than 3 and a half hours, the plane was in the area, as Lieutenant Commander Daniel Wolfen, head of the German P3 Orion Task Force, proudly states. A remarkable time considering all the tests and check lists necessary before any flight in operational deployment, says my German colleague. Night had come. And it was thanks to the thermal camera that the Orion crew was able to spot the mother ship and guide the crew of the Surcouf like halyburton.

Twelve suspects apprehended

The 12 suspects were thus apprehended – Sunday – by the French military boarding crews in two stages: first the pirates of the skiff (there were only two left on board), then those of the whaler serving as a boat mother (there were ten on board). They were brought back on board for further investigation. “ Suspects are currently being questioned to gather evidence for possible prosecution » is indicated at Atalanta HQ in Northwood. They could – if the outcome is positive – be handed over to the authorities of a nearby country – Seychelles for example – if the local prosecutor considers the evidence sufficient to allow prosecution.

Surcouf seen from the British Navy Lynx helicopter (Credit: MOD British Ministry of Defence)

Multiple queries

We can naturally wonder why the American ship did not directly intercept the pirates? One explanation is simply the broader tracking capacity of vessels operating under the European flag. We can also wonder about the results of the exchanges of fire on the pirate side? No information on this side. We can especially be surprised at the delay taken by the authorities of both Ocean Shield and Eunavfor Atalanta to confirm this incident as the nature of the response? B2 published the first information on this incident on the evening of January 6. We immediately questioned (Sunday) both HQs. No response came. It took 48 hours to get official confirmations. Amazing!

(Shift) Details provided on the circumstances of the attack and the response of the anti-pirate forces, on January 8, photos added on January 13

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).