News story

Royal Navy frees fishermen from suspected Somali pirates

A boarding team from HMS Somerset has liberated a large fishing dhow, which had been taken over by a group of armed Somalis a few days earlier, over 100 miles (160km) off the coast of Somalia.

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It is a well-practised tactic for suspected pirates to capture such a vessel as a ‘mother ship’ and then use it for many months to conduct illegal activity. This gives criminals a greater range over which to commit their crimes, a fate that often confronts pirated dhow crews.

This dhow’s crew were later set free by the Royal Navy.

HMS Somerset, whilst conducting routine counter-terrorism patrols for the Combined Maritime Forces, was alerted to the 100-tonne Jelbut fishing dhow, the ‘Hibib Fidi’, when it was found not to be acting in the usual manner for a fishing vessel.

HMS Somerset’s Merlin helicopter was scrambled to shadow the dhow before Somerset’s Commanding Officer, Commander Paul Bristowe, sent in the ship’s embarked Royal Marines boarding team.

Once the dhow was under the control of Somerset’s boarding party it became evident that the Pakistani crew were being held against their will by the Somalis, whose weapons were then seized and destroyed.

The dhow’s master expressed his gratitude to the British for freeing them and ending the crew’s ordeal.

Merchant shipping presents a significant prize to pirates in the region. The threat to the free passage of shipping has united countries that depend on sea trade to provide counter-piracy forces in the region.

As a result, over 25 nations have formed a coalition, the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF), to provide a united presence in the international waters of an area encompassing the southern Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, the Somali Basin, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean.

The huge area of interest - some 2.5 million square miles (6.5 million square kilometres) - requires warships to rely on networked and long range intelligence, surveillance, targeting and reconnaissance systems to detect and identify suspect vessels which could be involved in illegal maritime activity.

Commander Bristowe said:

This was a good day for the UK and CMF, and another victory for all nations who rely on these waters for trade or fishing stock. We have not only set free these fishermen, but denied criminal elements the use of an ideal command platform.

Our extensive training set us up for success,” he continued. “Somerset’s team reacted calmly and professionally in this swift and effective boarding.

Throughout the deployment, HMS Somerset’s ship’s company will continue to promote stable and co-operative relationships with regional nations with whom they have contact. However, they remain at readiness to respond to any tasking.

For over 10 years, CMF has been a cornerstone of maritime security in the Middle East region, contributing to ensuring the freedom of trade and assisting mariners in distress.

Whether undertaking counter-piracy, counter-terrorism or contributing to the safety of life at sea through the providing of medical assistance, engineering support, and search and rescue, CMF is on the job 24-hours-a-day.

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Published 18 October 2011