Friday, November 16, 2007

The pirate season in full bloom

As any regular reader here will know, piracy remains a daily problem for mariners out on the oceans and seas of the planet. But the last few weeks have seen disturbing spike in the number of attacks and the violence used by attackers in the Caribbean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean. As recent reports from the United State’s Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) and the International Maritime Board’s Piracy Reporting Centre make clear, piracy remains one of the most dangerous threats to mariners today.

How bad are things? Well, in the last two weeks, the US Navy has opened fire on pirate vessels off Somalia, the Philippine armed forces have battled pirates, Guyanese fishermen have been attacked and robbed and 21 Cameroonian soldiers were killed by Nigerian pirates.

A list of recent events from the ONI lists:

Military troops kill suspected pirate and seize boats during a raid, 21 Oct 07, in Batu Pantan, Lagayas, Tawi-Tawi. Western Mindanao Command spokesman, Major Eugenio Batara Jr., said the troops launched the raid following the reported presence of the pirates in Batu Pantan. The raiding troops seized two “jungkong” type vessels believed to be used by the pirates. Local pirates are reportedly operating in the waters of Sulu and Tawi-tawi, victimizing traders and fishermen in the area. They are said to be heavily armed and wreaking fear on the nearby population. Batara claimed the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) has also allied themselves with the lawless elements operating in this part of the country and urged the local population to be vigilant and report such kinds of individuals and organizations to the authorities.

1. Chemical tanker (GOLDEN NORI) hijacked 28 Oct, 70 NM north of Caluula, Somalia, Gulf of Aden.
2. Vessel reported suspicious approach 24 Oct 07, Gulf of Aden.
3. Chemical tanker reported suspicious approach 22 Oct 07, Gulf of Aden.
4. LPG tanker reported suspicious approach, 21 Oct 07, Gulf of Aden.
5. Vessel reported suspicious approach 08 Nov 07, north of Suqutra Islands, Indian Ocean.
6. General cargo vessel (DAI HONG DAN) infiltrated 29 Oct, port Mogadishu, Somalia.
7. Container ship reported suspicious approach 27 Oct 07, Somalia.
8. General cargo vessel (JAIKUR II) fired upon 21 Oct 07, approximately 60NM off the coast near Baraawe, Somalia.
9. General cargo vessel (ALMARJAN) hijacked 17 Oct 07, approximately 10-20NM from Mogadishu, Somalia.
10. Bulk carrier reported being fired upon 18 Oct 07, 200NM off the Somali coast.
11. Vessel reported suspicious approach 18 Oct 07, 155 miles off the Somali coast.
12. Vessel reported suspicious approach 14 Oct 07, 312NM off Mogadishu, Somalia.
13. Container ship boarded, robbed 26 Oct 07, Nacala anchorage, Mozambique.
14. Container ship reported attempted boarding, 26 Oct 07, Nacala anchorage, Mozambique.
15. Fishermen reportedly attacked, robbed by 21 Oct 07, near Katchatheevu, Gulf of Mannar.
16. Container ship boarded, robbed 31 Oct 07, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
17. Sailboat boarded, robbed, crewmembers assaulted 19 Oct 07, Majunga harbour, Madagascar.
18. Chemical Tanker boarded 04 Nov 07, Hoogli river, Sagar roads anchorage, India.
19. Product tanker boarded, robbed 18 Oct 07, at Kandla outer Tuna buoy India.
20. Bulk Carrier boarded, robbed 10 Oct 07, Kakinada anchorage, India.
21. Vessel boarded, robbed 08 Oct 07, in Panaji off the Yermal coast in Udupi district of Karnataka, India.
22. Sri Lanka Navy apprehends LTTE vessels and terrorists 18 Oct 07, in Mannar in northwest of Sri Lanka.
23. Sea battle between Sri Lankan military and LTTE, vessels sunk 13 Oct 07, off Jaffna peninsula, Sri Lanka.
24. LTTE vessels apprehended by naval troops 11 Oct 07, 5km north of Talaimannar, Sri Lanka.
25. LTTE vessel (MATSUSEEMA) reportedly sunk by Sri Lankan Navy 7 Oct 07, Sri Lanka.
26. Tanker boarded, robbed 28 Oct 07, Chittagong anchorage, Bangladesh.
27. General cargo vessel boarded, robbed 12 Oct 07, TSP Jetty, Chittagong port, Bangladesh.
28. Fishing vessel (QUAN YONG 168) boarded, robbed 06 Nov 07 in the evening, near Point Cruz, Taiwan.

Here's a US Navy image of a Somali pirate skiff taking a direct hit from the guided missile destroyer USS Porter's 25mm gun.

US Navy photo

Monday, November 12, 2007

Black day on the Black Sea

AP Photo

A wicked storm hit the Black Sea over the weekend, sinking several vessels and leaving a number of mariners injured or lost. See more at the BBC or just Google it. This is a vivid reminder that no matter how quiet the waters may seem, the seas can always turn intemperate. This happens every day on the waters of our planet and is what makes seafaring the world's dangerous profession.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Pirates make strange bedfellows

As most people are aware, the United States of America and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea are far from being considered friendly. For more than a half-century, the U.S. and North Korea, and South Korea, have faced off in that east Asian peninsula in one of the last remnants of the Cold War. Virtually the only assistance that Washington has ever provided to the government in Pyongyang is desperately needed food aid to feed the people in the communist north. But in an odd twist, the U.S. Navy came to aid of a North Korean freighter this past week, helping the Korean crew rebuff an attack by pirates and then providing medical assistance to the survivors.

Tuesday morning (October 2), the North Korean ship Dai Hong Dan sent out a distress call saying they had been boarded by pirates while steaming 60 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia. The USS James E. Williams, a destroyer based out of Norfolk, Virginia, and deployed with Combined Task Force 150 in the region, responded to the distress call and by around noon (local time) had arrived close by the stricken freighter.
Dai Hong Dan (US Navy photo)

According to the U.S. Navy’s Combined Maritime Force Headquarters in Bahrain, the Dai Hong Dan crew were able to report that they had confronted the attackers, who had seized control of the wheelhouse, while the Koreans controlled the engine room. The Americans radioed the Somali pirates aboard the freighter and ordered them to lay down their weapons, then prepared to dispatch a boarding team to the North Korean ship.

In the meantime, the Korean crew fought back against their attackers, retaking control of the freighter and apparently killing at least one pirate while capturing six others. A request for medical assistance led the Americans to send naval corpsmen to the Dai Hong Dan, along with a security team.

US Navy personnel board Dai Hong Dan (US Navy photo)

But lest this all appear to signal some rapprochement in relations between Pyongyang and Washington, keep in mind that assisting mariners in distress is one of the oldest maritime traditions there is. One can but wonder what the young American sailors thought as they prepared to respond to an appeal from a North Korean vessel. Yet they appeared to carry out their duties with professionalism and the North Koreans were, in this instance, unafraid of asking for help when they needed it.

An added question is developing in some maritime quarters about what the Dai Hong Dan was doing in those waters in the first place. The USS James E. Williams did not detain or search the North Korean vessel, but we may hear more about this in the future.

The homepage for the USS James E. Williams can be found here. The North Korean news agency’s site is here, though there is no news about the incident as yet.