x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Anti-piracy efforts are paying off, Nato says

Nato mission admiral says efforts are having effect on pirate activity as there's reportedly 60 per cent fewer hijacks.

A soldier stands guard on the Nato anti-piracy ship, TCG Giresun, flying the Turkish flag, that is docked at Port Rashid in Bur Dubai.
A soldier stands guard on the Nato anti-piracy ship, TCG Giresun, flying the Turkish flag, that is docked at Port Rashid in Bur Dubai.

DUBAI // Sixty per cent fewer ships are being hijacked off the Horn of Africa, the commander of the Nato counter-piracy mission said in Dubai yesterday.

Rear Admiral Sinan Azmi Tosun, the Turk serving as commanding officer of the Standing Nato Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2), said only six merchant vessels were taken for ransom in the past eight months, compared with 36 in the eight months before.

Admiral Tosun said there had been a drop of 60 per cent since 2008.

"Nato, in conjunction with other actors, is succeeding in countering piracy," he said.

Admiral Tosun said that last year 1,026 hostages were taken hostage and ransoms totalling US$146 million (Dh536.2m) were paid to free 30 vessels.

The estimated cost of piracy to the global economy is between $8 billion and $12bn a year, he said.

SNMG2's counter-piracy operation, code-named Operation Ocean Shield, patrols waters off the Horn of Africa. TCG Giresun, the flagship of the mission, is docked at Port Rashid in Dubai.

The ship is on a six-day visit to the UAE to increase co-operation with regional authorities. It arrived in the UAE from Qatar.

"Regional countries are aware and interested in strategic engagements," said Admiral Tosun."On any given day there are between 12 and 25 warships and air units operating in the Gulf of Aden and Somali basin."

Two other international armed forces also operate in the area. The European Union Naval Force has patrolled the waters since December 2008 and operates the Maritime Security Centre - Horn of Africa to provide updates of piracy activities.

And the Combined Maritime Forces deploys three teams from its base in Bahrain to protect Middle East shipping lines.

There are also a number of independent security companies in the region, said Admiral Tosun. These mainly conducted escort duty in the Gulf of Aden.

More than 20,000 ships pass through the Gulf of Aden annually and 50 per cent of the world's containers use the waters, making it a hunting ground for pirates.

They use speedboats with outboard motors and are usually armed with AK-47 automatic assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, said Admiral Tosun.

The pirates operate from bases aboard dhows, whaling vessels and adapted hijacked merchant ships.

Ships with razor wire and water cannon to protect themselves are not immune, but are certainly less likely to be captured by pirates, said Admiral Tosun.

He recommended the presence of armed guards on ships as "an effective way to prevent pirate attacks".

If a ship comes under attack, the TCG Giresun springs into action.

"We go to the rescue of troubled ships as soon as we get the distress call," said Cmdr Mehmet Dagci, the executive officer aboard the flagship.

"We dispatch a helicopter with one or two members to help the vessel thwart the pirate attack. We also have a command centre where we monitor all the time."

Admiral Tosun said Somali authorities in Puntland and Galmudug were ready to take action against pirates, and that tribal tolerance of the crime was decreasing.

"We held two meetings with Puntland representatives of Bosaso and Garacad during our command period," he said, adding they were encouraging local leaders to take up the battle.

Last month, a chemical tanker registered in Dubai was captured by Somali pirates off the coast of Oman. The MT Royal Grace has a crew of 22.

frahman@thenational.ae