DUBAI // The Saturday rescue of the UAE-owned bulk carrier the MV Arrilah-I marks the opening salvo of a tougher Federal tack against piracy, a Dubai-based security expert has said.
The incident, the first time UAE forces had participated in a counter-piracy operation, put training from the past year or so to use and reflected a decision to make stopping piracy a priority, said Theodore Karasik, the research director at the Institute for Near Eastern and Gulf Military Analysis.
“This is a significant milestone,” he said today. “Ships that are registered in the UAE or contain shipments that are coming from or going to the UAE have been a frequent target and I think the UAE government has had enough.”
The MV Arrilah-I, a 37,000-tonne bulk carrier owned by a subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc), was the first government-owned vessel to be hijacked. Four of 26 ships currently held hostage by Somali pirates belong to UAE-based firms and a fifth was released last month. Six more vessels travelling to or from Emirati ports have been hijacked as well in the past six months.
“I think [intervention] is going to depend on who owns what and what it’s carrying and how important it is,” said Mr Karasik. “But the point is [that] the UAE is coming up very strongly in terms of counter-piracy operations.”
The attack began early Friday when pirates attacked the vessel, which was en route from Australia to Jebel Ali port, with AK-47 rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. Six of them approached on two skiffs launched from a larger ship, said a source familiar with the incident who asked not to be identified.
The MV Arrilah-I’s crew and its private unarmed guards alerted the UK Maritime Trade Operations, a Dubai-based group that liaises between commercial vessels and naval forces that conduct counter-piracy operations in the area. Then they locked themselves in a safe room on the ship.
Ten pirates eventually boarded the vessel, the source said. The attackers, captured by special UAE counterterrorism forces with support from the Air Force and Air Defence as well as the US Fifth Fleet, will be prosecuted in Federal courts according to a maritime law expert.
“The UAE has jurisdiction over its flag-bearing vessels in international or regional waters,” said Eisa bin Haider, a Dubai based advocate, legal consultant and maritime law expert. “The Federal Criminal Code states that any crimes involving military or commercial aircraft or vessels bearing the UAE flag are to be prosecuted in the UAE courts.
“Furthermore, if a crime occurs on vessels bearing flags of other countries in UAE ports or waters, they are not to be prosecuted locally except in the case of a request by the flag country or the ship’s captain, or if [the situation] endangers security or the victim or assailant is a UAE citizen.”
A UAE military spokesman and the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi declined to comment on the events yesterdaySUN, as did the Adnoc subsidiary that owns the vessel.
The UAE military said Saturday that the pirates will be handed over to the Ministry of Interior once they arrive in Dubai. A senior Dubai Public Prosecution official confirmed that the pirates would not be prosecuted in local courts.
“Although the vessel was heading to Dubai it would be prosecuted in Abu Dhabi,” said the official, who asked not to be named. “This might be a state security matter which is a Federal matter.”
The suspects are expected to be transferred to Abu Dhabi-based Federal prosecutors after being processed by the interiorministry. The ship is scheduled to arrive at 9pm tonightMON, said Derrick Justin David, the operations executive of Sharaf Shipping, the shipping agent for the vessel. The pirates’ case would be heard in the Federal Criminal Court of First Instance, Mr bin Haider said.
The pirates are facing a life sentence. Federal law stipulates that a life term is handed down to whoever hijacks an aircraft or ship to seize it or its contents or divert it from its route.
* with additional reporting by Salam al Amir