Pirates attacked on tanker Nordic Apollo

2011.5.16-Pirates_Bullets_240_119442a.jpgA U.S. destroyer broke up an attack by Somali pirates on Monday in the lawless waters of the Gulf of Aden, but the American Sailors let the would-be hijackers go, the Navy announced.

The incident highlights the difficulty for the U.S. and international navies that patrol the pirate-infested waters off the Horn of Africa, where warships can help disrupt attacks when they happen or sometimes rescue ships after the fact -- but only treat the symptoms of the piracy problem, not its root causes.

According to the Navy, the Marshall Islands-flagged tanker Nordic Apollo radioed for help at about 8:40 a.m. local time on Monday -- its crew reported being fired upon by pirates in a small skiff. At 11:00 a.m., another vessel reported "suspicious activity by a skiff," and the destroyer USS Pinckney responded to investigate.

The San Diego-based Pinckney radioed a warning to all the ships in the area and launched its helicopter, an MH-60R Seahawk, to try to track the pirates. Meanwhile, the destroyer hurried to where the skiff had been spotted.

According to the Navy's announcement, the Pinckney's Seahawk crew sighted the skiff and confirmed it was carrying the telltale equipment of modern pirates:

"The helicopter crew successfully tracked and located the skiff, observing nine suspected pirates and pirate paraphernalia on board, including several ladders, weapons and fuel containers. The suspected pirates were seen attempting to cover their weapons with blankets and throwing the ladders overboard as Pinckney closed their position. Intercepted by the helicopter and Pinckney, the skiff stopped and the suspected pirates threw their weapons, identified as five AK-47 rifles, one rocket propelled grenade launcher and three RPG rounds, overboard."

When the Pinckney had neared the skiff, it dispatched a boarding team in one of the ship's small boats. Sailors discovered nine would-be pirates, "one grappling hook, 36 barrels of fuel, and 75 and 45 horsepower outboard engines," the Navy said. The American sailors sank one of the skiff's outboards -- to keep it from getting up enough speed to try coming alongside another merchant ship -- but left its crew enough fuel and water to return to shore.

International authorities seldom try to arrest pirates in these types of situations. It's inconvenient to hold pirate suspects aboard a warship and it's difficult to determine the proper venues and procedures to try them. Because Somalia is without a strong central government, pirates can find refuge ashore not only after failed hijacking attempts like Monday's, but also after successfully boarding and capturing merchant vessels.

Even though the American and European navies have patrolled the Horn of Africa for years to help cut down on pirate attacks, their commanders have all but ruled out trying to crack down on pirate havens ashore. One worry is that attacking and killing pirates might cause hijackers to escalate their violence against merchant hostages.

Russian and Chinese naval commanders, on the other hand, have talked much more forcefully about shelling or even invading Somali pirate safe havens. In May, Chinese Gen. Chen Bingde, head of the People's Liberation Army, said in a visit to the Pentagon that he wanted to step up the international effort against Somali piracy.

"I think that for our counter-piracy campaigns to be effective, we should probably move beyond the ocean and crush their bases on the land," Chen said, through a translator. "It is important that we target not only the operators, those on the small ships or crafts conducting the hijacking activities, but also the figureheads."

Source: Military.com News