Royal Navy catches Indian Ocean pirates

 

The Royal Navy has detained seven suspected pirates in the Indian Ocean, the Ministry of Defence said today.

They were picked up by the RFA Fort Victoria about 350 nautical miles from the Somali coast, a spokesman said.

"The Royal Navy has once again struck a blow to Somali piracy operating in the Indian Ocean," he said.

On Monday the supply ship, patrolling about 420 nautical miles from the Seychelles, received information that a Spanish fishing vessel had come under attack from a group of pirate vessels.

"The ship's Lynx helicopter was quickly despatched to investigate," the spokesman said.

"Once at the scene, the helicopter identified two suspect vessels, a whaler and a skiff, in the vicinity of the fishing vessel.

"The faster of the two, a skiff, sped away at over 25 knots as the helicopter gave chase.

"When the skiff ignored orders to stop, a specially trained sniper on board the Lynx helicopter fired warning shots ahead of the fleeing vessel which stopped and the suspected pirates on board were then taken to Fort Victoria via boat.

"Fort Victoria's Royal Marines boarding team then boarded the whaler and another skiff in the vicinity. As a result of the day's action, a total of seven suspected pirates were held on board Fort Victoria along with their whaler as evidence, with no injuries being sustained by either side."

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: "This latest operation demonstrates again the vital work we are undertaking to tackle piracy that threatens international shipping lanes.

"British forces are in the forefront in the fight against piracy. The resolute contribution of the Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary, operating as part of an international coalition, is keeping up the pressure."

Permission was given to take the suspected pirates to the Seychelles for prosecution, the spokesman said.

"With Seychelles authority granted, this will be the first case to be heard there under a memorandum of understanding signed between the UK and Seychelles governments in July 2009."

Captain Gerry Northwood of the Royal Navy, on Fort Victoria, said: "It has been a long but rewarding operation with many complex aspects. Operating under Nato tasking and in consultation with our headquarters in the Middle East and in the UK, we utilised a range of national and international assets to bring these events to a satisfactory conclusion.

"The Royal Navy has once again demonstrated that multinational co-ordination can be successfully deployed to disrupt piracy in this area in order to protect international merchant shipping."

The Foreign Office (FCO) said that a UK-trained police dog team had today gathered vital evidence to help prosecute the suspected pirates.

A spokeswoman said the dogs and their handlers were trained by the Surrey Police dog handling team as part of a Foreign Office and United Nations (UN) funded project to tackle piracy.

She said: "Providing sufficient evidence to convict pirates has been a real problem for the international community as pirates often throw their weapons overboard and claim to be fishermen.

"However, the dog handling team is able to search the suspected pirate vessel for traces of explosives and firearms.

"Rocket propelled grenades are a weapon of choice for the pirates, but even if they are disposed of in the sea they leave explosive residue that the dogs can identify.

"Today's search by Diesel (a spaniel) and Millie (a labrador) indicated that the suspected pirates' vessel may contain traces of explosives or firearms.

"This evidence will be passed to the Seychelles prosecutor who will conduct further investigations.

"The seven suspected pirates are alleged to have been involved in an attempted act of piracy on a vessel that supplies the Seychelles tuna fleet."

Minister for Africa Henry Bellingham said: "We must respond robustly to piracy on the high seas and ensure that pirates pay for their actions.

"The Royal Navy have once again captured a number of suspected pirates and I pay tribute to their fine work.

"But too many times in the past pirates have been captured and not prosecuted because of a lack of evidence. The UK is committed to stopping this from happening.

"Today's operation by the Seychelles police dog team is a small example of how UK support is making a practical difference - both Millie and Diesel were trained by Surrey Police with FCO and UN funding.

"I congratulate the Seychelles on their willingness to prosecute pirates and I hope that more nations will follow their lead. We will continue to work with our international partners to ensure that convicted pirates can be repatriated to Somalia to serve their sentences."

Superintendent Duncan Greenhalgh, of Surrey Police, said: "I'm delighted that we have been able to provide this vital support to Seychelles police.

"Our operational dogs are an indispensable tool in policing, whether searching, tracking, protecting or guarding, and it is great to see these skills being put into action by dogs and handlers trained in Surrey over 5,000 miles away in the Seychelles."

The RFA Fort Victoria took part in an operation in October to free Italian cargo ship the Montecristo after it was taken over by pirates off the Somali coast.

British, US and Italian forces took part in the operation to free the ship, which was attacked while carrying a crew of 23 - seven Italians, six Ukrainians and 10 Indians.

The Fort Victoria took part in the operation, with an American Navy frigate.

PA

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