This action followed on from the successful rescue of the Italian merchant ship MV Montecristo on 11 October by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) vessel Fort Victoria.
It is believed the dhow was hijacked by suspected pirates so that they could use it as a base, or mother ship, from which to launch attacks against merchant ships many hundreds of miles from Somalia. Throughout this time, the Pakistani crew of the dhow were held hostage onboard.
On Friday 14 October, some 200 miles (320km) off the coast, HMS Somerset and RFA Fort Victoria closed in on the dhow.
HMS Somerset’s Commanding Officer, Commander Paul Bristowe, said:
The mother ship was located by Somerset’s Merlin helicopter at first light and the boarding teams brought to immediate notice whilst Somerset closed with the dhow.
HMS Somerset is currently assigned to the Combined Maritime Forces counter-piracy mission, Combined Task Force 151. RFA Fort Victoria is deployed as part of the NATO Ocean Shield counter-piracy task force.
The dhow was soon surrounded by a Royal Navy and Royal Marines boarding team from RFA Fort Victoria, supported by HMS Somerset’s Merlin helicopter.
RFA Fort Victoria’s Commanding Officer, Captain Shaun Jones, said:
This operation demanded high levels of seamanship to ensure that the dhow was kept under close observation as the boarding party moved in.
The suspected pirates capitulated as the boarding team scaled the vessel’s side. Captain Rod Yapp Royal Marines, the commander of the boarding team, said:
Approaching the dhow before boarding was quite tense. Through my weapon sight I could see dark figures moving in the shadows on the bridge. We quickly boarded and secured the dhow, then mustered the 24 occupants on her bow.
In the run up to being boarded, the suspected pirates were observed by Somerset’s Merlin helicopter ditching equipment and weapons overboard as well as setting one of their skiffs adrift. Despite their desperate attempts to cover their tracks, a large cache of boarding ladders, weapons, a second attack skiff, and equipment from a previously pirated ship were found onboard.
Captain Yapp said:
There was a clear indication that the suspected pirates found on the dhow were well-practised and knew what they were doing. One of the weapons had recently been fired and was well maintained - as was the RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] rocket.
I think that if we hadn’t disrupted this group of suspected pirates, it is quite possible that they would have attacked another merchant vessel.
The dhow’s crew were free to go on their way once the evidence-gathering had finished. The four suspected pirates that were apprehended, however, have been passed to Italian authorities, on suspicion of their involvement in the attack on the MV Montecristo three days earlier.
Captain Gerry Northwood, who commanded the Royal Navy assets in this operation, said:
Somali-based piracy seeks to undermine the freedom of the seas across a wide area. Their victims are local traders and fishermen of the Indian Ocean as well as sailors in the large merchant ships carrying the vital trade on which the UK economy depends.
This decisive and timely action by the Royal Navy, along with the rescue of the Montecristo on 11 October, will send a strong message to those who wish to commit piracy in this part of the world.