German Navy releases video of Somali pirates hijacking German vessel in 2010


Almost to the day four years ago, on April 5, 2010, Somali pirates hijacked the German MV Taipan in the Indian Ocean. A few hours later, Dutch marines boarded the container vessel, arresting ten pirates who in the end faced trial in a German court.

While the role of the Dutch boarding team had been higlighted in news reports (undoubtedly because the Dutch released video footage of the boarding rather soon; see below), the role of a German Maritime Reconnaissance and Patrol Aircraft (MRPA) Orion P-3C, call sign Jester, was rarely acknowledged. Four years after the hijacking, the German Navy has released video footage taken from the aircraft: weiterlesen

After two years‘ trial, Somali pirates get prison sentences in Hamburg

It should have been an easy case. More than two years ago, a gang of armed robbers captured a merchant vessel in the Indian Ocean. Before they could take the crew hostage, the seamen hid in a safe room, stopped the engines and called fort help. And help came swiftly: a few hours later, heavily armed soldiers fast roped from a helicopter, re-took the vessel and arrested the pirates.

What happend on Easter Monday, April 5, 2010, on the German-flagged MV Taipan off the Somali coast, however, turned out a judicial nightmare for the district court in Hamburg, Germany. After almost two year’s trial, the court handed down the verdicts today: seven pirates got six to seven years in prison; the three others, considered minors at the time of the attack, got three years as juvenile delinquents.

During the trial, the first against pirates in this German port since since Klaus Störtebeker hundreds of years ago, a First World judicial system met Third World defendants. It startet with the usual routine of finding out date and place of birth – but the answers, typically during the rainy season and under a tree didn’t quite match the standards of Western court proceedings. As three of the indicted Somalis probably were minors at the time of the attack, their exact age had to be found out: one of the defendants understood the examination in a German hospital with an x-ray machine,  according to Germany’s weekly Der Spiegel, as a prelude to swift execution.

Misunderstandings like these were abundant, weiterlesen

UK revised rules for private armed guards vs pirates: Don’t wait for the aggressor to strike

While in Germany the rules on the use of private armed guards to fight pirates from German-flagged ships are still unclear (obviously due to a lacking agreement between the Ministry of Economics and the Ministry of the Interior), the United Kingdom has revised it rules on private security company on British ships. Foreign Office minister Henry Bellingham explained this yesterday:

Following the Government’s announcement last autumn that we would allow the use of privately contracted armed guards on board UK flagged vessels, the Committee looked carefully at the issue. As the Chairman of the Committee pointed out, the Department for Transport published before Christmas last year interim guidance for UK flagged vessels on the use of armed guards to defend against the threat of piracy in exceptional circumstances. The guidance included a section on the use of force in the case of an attack. Since then, we have revised the guidance on the rules on use of force.
The revision published this morning provides greater clarity on what UK law says on the use of force. As the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) pointed out, the starting point must be our current common and statute law, which is pretty clear about what one can and cannot do. Obviously, companies must seek independent legal advice as necessary when developing the rules on use of force.
In the revised rules we go into a lot more detail, making it clear, for example, that it is
“illegal to use force for retaliation or revenge.”
That might be perfectly obvious, but the guidance continues:
“If the threat ceases, the defences of self defence, defence of another…no longer apply”,
and if a private security detachment
“believes a threat is imminent, it is not necessary for them to wait for the aggressor to strike the first blow before using reasonable and proportionate force to defend themselves”.
Again, that is clear. It is part of a graduated response. Earlier today, I was talking to experts in the Department for Transport and the Ministry of Defence, and they believe that we have struck a much better balance. We make a lot more information available. For example, we make it clear that if
“armed guards sighted a pirate skiff”—
a skiff that might be equipped to undertake acts of piracy—
“but there was nothing to indicate that the skiff was actively undertaking an act of piracy, it would be illegal for armed guards to use force against them.”
However, that would not, of course, preclude firing warning shots. All the evidence is that the pirates are cowards. They value their lives—they are not suicide merchants—and the indications are that when warning shots are fired they scarper off pretty quickly.
We have made it clear, and I say again to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South that this is work in progress. The revised guidelines are an important step forward in response to his Committee’s work. We will listen to what people in the industry say about the revised guidelines, and we will obviously listen to what the Committee says, and if we need to make further amendments, my hon. Friend the Shipping Minister has made it clear that he will do so.

The key, from my point of view, is the sentence If a private security detachment “believes a threat is imminent, it is not necessary for them to wait for the aggressor to strike the first blow before using reasonable and proportionate force to defend themselves”. Might be hard to prove, however.

EUNAVFOR’s Potts: Put pressure on the pirates everywhere (Audio)

British Rear Admiral Duncan Potts, operations commander of EUNAVFOR, the European Union’s anti-piracy operation Atalanta off Somalia, was in Berlin today to brief members of the German parliament on the planned expansion of the Atalanta mandate: as decided by EU defense and foreign ministers last week, EUNAVFOR’s warships will soon have permission to attack the pirates‘ logistics ashore in Somalia.

Germany is one – and not the only – country weary of this expansion, so Potts had a tough job convincing the parlamentarians that Atalanta needs this expanded mandate. Main reason, the Admiral told lawmakers, is to put pressure on the pirates not only at sea, but also where they have their lairs and logistics – in order to make their business model less profitable.

After the briefing, I had the opportunity to ask Potts some questions; here’s the audio:

(Note to my German readers: German version to follow)

For NATO (and others), it’s gloves off against Somali pirates

The incidents were published step by step. In the beginning of April, according to NATO’s counter piracy operation Ocean Shield, marines from the Dutch frigate Tromp boarded a pirate mothership off the Somali coast, killing two pirates when returning fire. Also around that time, the Danish Naval Command – but not NATO – informed last week, the Danish warship Esbern Snare had intercepted a pirate mothership off the Somali coast, wounding three pirates when returning fire.

You could have assumed that these two incidents have been connected. And indeed, yesterday NATO’s Ocean Shield command in Northwoo, U.K. confirmed that the Alliance’s anti-piracy operation is going tough on the pirates. Instead of patrolling the sea lanes and waiting attacks and disaster to happen as they did in recent years, NATO has started offensive operations against what they call the known pirate lairs at sea, close to the coast. In fact, that means interdiction operations against known motherships – even, and that’s a new thing, against those which are known to have the original crew still on board.

(A pirate ship, blown up by EU antipiracy forces. Foto: EUNAVFOR)

Here’s NATO’s press release (published April 13) which outlines, albeit clumsily, the new offensive tactics:

NATO Operation Delivers Severe Blow Against Armed Pirates

Earlier this month, NATO counter-piracy forces delivered a severe blow against armed pirates off the coast of Somalia by arresting 34 suspected pirates. The suspected pirates had previously been observed loading up their mother ships and skiffs with fuel and weapons in order to attack merchant ships further out to sea. In a well-planned operation, NATO warships conducted a night-time strike on the known pirate lairs at sea, close to the coast. As well as detaining the 34 suspected pirates, 34 innocent hostages, who had been held by the pirates, were freed unharmed by the NATO forces.

Recent months have seen an increase in pirate attacks, particularly in the northern Arabian Sea, and with the monsoon season coming to an end, and the weather improving, it was seen as crucial for counter-piracy forces to strike to help prevent pirates getting out to sea to prey on merchant shipping transiting the area.

Over an extended period NATO warships HNLMS Tromp, HDMS Esbern Snare and USS Halyburton, observed the known pirate camps, supported by Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircrafts from the EU Naval Force (EUNAVFOR) and various other counter piracy forces.

On Friday, as part of the focussed operation, crew from NATO warship HDMS Esbern Snare boarded a suspicious whaler and found it to be packed with fuel, AK47 machine guns, a ladder and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) and 3 suspected pirates. The whaler and weaponry were seized by the warship, and after being questioned, the suspected pirates were taken to a nearby beach.

On Saturday HDMS Esbern Snare then approached a dhow that was suspected to be involved in pirate activity. As the Danish boarding team investigated, the pirates started firing at them, who then fired back in self defence. In the fire-fight several pirates were wounded and as a result, a medical team from NATO flag ship HNLMS Tromp was quickly sent to the scene to render medical assistance.

Shortly afterwards HNLMS Tromp spotted another suspect dhow heading for a known pirate camp and as she closed in to investigate, her boarding team was also fired upon. Gunners on board Tromp and the boarding team returned fire, setting fire to the dhow. Ten pirates tried to escape in a skiff, but were quickly captured. When a team from HNLMS Tromp went to the dhow to assist the innocent crew, they found 2 fatally wounded pirates on board. At the same time, a previously pirated merchant vessel – MV Albedo, lifted anchor and headed straight for the NATO flagship. After some well-aimed warning shots across her bow, Albedo returned to her anchorage. HNLMS Tromp then escorted the freed dhow and crew to safer waters.

On several occasions during the operation, the NATO warships surveyed the anchorages and the pirate beaches. They will continue to do so for the next few months.

Speaking after the operation, Rear Admiral Hank Ort, Chief of Staff at NATO’s Maritime HQ in Northwood said, “This operation has shown the pirates that we mean business and will not tolerate their criminal activities. By conducting this operation close to the shore we have been able to deprive some pirates of a safe passage back to their anchorages and deprive others of the opportunity to go out and attack innocent merchant ships. We are pleased with the success of this operation but we are not complacent as we know there is still much work to be done.”

(Lines in bold face marked by me, T.W.)

Now, this is an announcement. First, NATO is well aware that some allies are very uncomfortable with the idea of operations on the Somali shore – hence the somewhat strange definition of pirates lairs at sea, close to the coast. Secondly, the intention now is to prevent the pirates from going out hunting in the first place, instead of looking for them on the vast waters between the coasts of Somalia, Arabia and the Indian subcontinent. And finally: it’s a message to the pirates that their retreats are under close observation – and NATO is willing to intervene if they go out to sea.

NATO seems to be the first of the naval forces patrolling the sea lanes off the Horn of Africa to admit tougher tactics against the pirates. Other navies, however, obviously are beginning to adapt a similar approach: a Finnish warship under European Union command boarding a suspected mothership, detaining 18 pirates, blowing up the vessel (pictured above). Am warship from the Combined Maritime Forces, type and nationality not released, that interdicted a pirate mothership. The Australian frigate Stuart intercepting a pirate mothership.

Don’t be fooled: usually, the press releases on these actions carry the headline xx hostages rescued off Somalia. Which just means: we indicted and boarded a pirate vessel, knowing there are hostages on board. And I’m wondering: If I count correctly, the various warships by now must have detained approximately 50 pirates in April alone. What are they going to do with them?