Danish forces disrupt pirate takeover of ship

Danish forces disrupt pirate takeover of ship
# 05 February 2010 19:22 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. Danish military forces disrupted the takeover by pirates of a cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden on Friday, marking the first time this has happened since a multinational armada deployed a year ago, a naval spokesman said, APA reports quoting Associated Press.
Ten members of the Danish special forces clambered aboard the Antigua and Barbuda-flagged Ariella from a dinghy but by that time the pirates may have already been scared off when a helicopter from a Danish warship Absalon buzzed the cargo ship. The ship’s 25 crew members — a Bulgarian, a Slovak, an Indian, 15 Filipinos, and 7 Ukrainians — had locked themselves in a secure room. All are reported safe.
Cmdr. John Harbour, spokesman for the European Union Naval Force, praised the NATO forces for their fast reaction and coordination with other forces in the area.
"This is the first (instance) where a warship has been able to send forces to stop a hijacking while it was in progress," Harbour said.
Cmdr. Dan B. Termansen, the commander of the Danish warship Absalon, said that crew had reported seeing a pirate firing an automatic weapon onboard their ship.
The crew "saw a skiff approaching and made full speed ahead," he said. "When they saw the first pirate onboard the deck, they fled to the safe room."
He could not say whether there were any pirates onboard the ship when he sent the special forces, he said, because the hatches were open and it was unclear where the gunmen had gone.
"I don’t know if he jumped overboard when he saw the helicopter or later when he saw the special forces," he said. "We searched the ship for hours and didn’t find anybody."
But Cmdr. Mikael Bill, head of the Danish Admiralty in western Denmark, said he does not believe there were any pirates onboard the ship when the special forces members arrived.
Ten Danish special forces came from the Absalon to rescue the crew of the Ariella, said Lt. Col. Wolfgang Schmidt, a spokesman for NATO’s Lisbon-based Joint Command. The forces released the 25 crew from the secure room and continued to search the vessel for the pirates.
Pernielle Kroer, spokeswoman for the Danish Navy, told The Associated Press the operation involved military police and the country’s elite Frogman Corps, which are part of a NATO deployment.
Warships typically do not intervene in hijackings because of the danger that crews may be hit by crossfire. Forces were able to intervene in this case because the ship had registered with naval authorities, was traveling along a recommended transit corridor and was part of a group transit, ensuring the ships had a helicopter within 30 minutes’ reaction time, Harbour said.
The Ariella sent out a distress signal early Friday that was picked up by the Indian warship Tabar in the Gulf of Aden. The Indians relayed the signal to a French plane overhead, which spotted a group of armed pirates on the deck. Then the Danish troops were notified.
Other EU and American forces have intervened in pirate hostage situations, but not during the hijacking itself.
French commandos stormed a yacht last April with five hostages on board but one, skipper Florent Lemacon, was killed during the operation. American snipers also shot dead three pirates in April 2009 holding an American captain hostage on board a lifeboat after the crew of the Maersk Alabama had persuaded the pirates to leave the main ship.
Somali pirates have seized three ships this year and hold a total of nine vessels and more than 180 crew.
Piracy is one of the few ways to make money in Somalia, an arid, impoverished land torn apart by civil war. The government does not hold its own capital and can’t send forces to counter the flourishing pirate bases that dot its 1,900-mile (3,100-kilometer)-long coastline.
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