Thursday, September 24, 2009
Armed sailors from the Royal Australian Navy have rescued a cargo ship being pursued by Somali pirates. The frigate HMAS Toowoomba was on an anti-piracy patrol in the Gulf of Aden on Sunday when it picked up a call for help from the merchant vessel BBC Portugal, which was being pursued by an armed gang in a high speed launch. In a multinational rescue effort, a Japanese P-3 Orion patrol plane flew over the cargo ship and a German warship launched a helicopter to help. The Australian frigate sped through the Gulf with a boarding party standing by to take on the pirates. Frigate captain Ivan Ingham told The Age his crew was in close contact with the Japanese and the Germans, who confirmed that the attackers were heavily armed with automatic rifles and a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. The helicopter crew reported that the Somalis had dumped into the sea equipment including a ladder. Toowoomba launched an armed boarding team to seize the suspect launch and the Australians found the weapons and a large amount of ammunition. The Somalis initially tried to escape but realised they were heavily outgunned and gave up.
HMAS Toowoomba (FFH 156)Those aboard the 12-metre launch denied that they were pirates and said they did not plan to attack the merchant chip, Commander Ingham said. He said the pirate vessel came from from the Somali port of Ceelaayo. The Somalis were 50 nautical miles off the coast of Yemen when they were apprehended. Commander Ingham said he had no doubt that the quick intervention of HMAS Toowoomba and the coalition helicopter ensured that the incident did not escalate into a direct attack on the ship. "The boarding party was instructed to disarm the suspect pirates and confiscate their lethal military weapons,'' he said. Once that was done, the Australians confirmed that the launch had enough food, water and fuel to make it home to Somalia," Commander Ingham said. "It is Australian Government policy to deter, warn, intercept and disarm those vessels and persons suspected of engaging in acts of piracy. "This approach provides an effective measure to reduce an immediate threat posed by these types of groups operating in the area.'' It was the frigate's first anti-piracy operation since it moved down to the Gulf of Aden from the northern Arabian Sea two weeks ago. HMAS Toowoomba is continuing its counter-piracy patrol.