French Navy vessel rescues 11 Indian sailors from presumed pirates
Atalanta Counter-Piracy Operation: French Navy vessel rescues 11 Indian sailors from suspected pirates
On 18th January 2014, off the coast of Oman, the French Landing Platform Dock (LPD) Siroco, flagship of the EU Naval Force Atalanta, released the 11 Indian crew members of a dhow that had been attacked by suspected pirates at the mouth of the Gulf of Aden. A boarding team from the Siroco arrested five suspected pirates who were holding the Indian crew hostage.
On the evening of Friday 17th January 2014, the headquarters of EU Naval Force Atalanta on the LPD Siroco was alerted, via the global maritime information exchange network, of the attack of an oil tanker, the Nave Atropos, sailing under the Marshall Islands flag.
Late in the evening, at least one skiff opened fire while approaching the oil tanker. The on-board armed security team immediately returned fire, forcing the pirates to sail away from the merchant ship and to cease their attack. Relayed to all ships and military assets in the area, the incident started off a prompt international coordination operation carried out by the Atalanta headquarters. All the information gathered and regularly updated, with the support of other counter-piracy forces near the attack area, helped to zero in on the location of a dhow suspected of having served as the attackers’ mother-ship.
The Siroco, then situated around 200 nautical miles (less than 400 km) from this dhow, undertook to intercept it. A maritime patrol aircraft from other counter-piracy forces and the Siroco’s own helicopter pursued the dhow for several hours before it was intercepted by the LPDs on 18th January.
The French crew visually identified the dhow as the Shane Hind, for which they had been on the lookout since the oil tanker attack. Backed by the Siroco’s Alouette III helicopter, the boarding team, sailing on a fast rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB) craft, caught up with the Shane Hind, which by then was flying the Indian flag. As they approached the dhow, some persons were seen throwing equipment overboard.
The 11 Indian crew members being held hostage were liberated, as five suspected pirates quickly surrendered to the French forces. The investigation by the boarding team determined that the five were probably involved in the previous day’s attack. The Indian dhow, which had likely been used as a “mother ship” during the attack, had been pirated several days ago much farther south, off the eastern Somali coast.
The Siroco’s crew took charge of the five suspected pirates in keeping with international law and gathered evidence that would help prosecute them in a court of law.
Following the end of this action, the Naval Force Commander of Atalanta, Rear Admiral Hervé Bléjean, declared: “Thanks to an exceptionally effective international cooperation, we showed once more that there will be no safe haven for piracy in the area as long as counter-piracy forces remain fully dedicated to their task. I also congratulate French Ship Siroco on this success.”
The LPD Siroco joined the Atalanta counter-piracy operation off the Horn of Africa on 6th December 2013, with EU NAVFOR Force headquarters on board under the command of Rear Admiral Hervé Bléjean. This is the third French command of the Atalanta naval force since its inception in December 2008.
The mission of Operation Atalanta is to escort World Food Programme (WFP) vessels, participate in securing maritime traffic and contribute to the deterrence, prevention and repression of acts of piracy off the Somali coast.
France has been a major player and historic participant of Operation Atalanta since its very beginning, with the regular deployment of French navy ships. These assets are at times reinforced with maritime patrol aircraft.
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