EU naval force flagship disrupts large pirate group
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EU naval force flagship disrupts large pirate group

Mogadishu : Somalia | Sep 19, 2010 at 8:53 AM PDT
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The flagship of the EU naval force off Somalia has disrupted an attempt by pirates to reach the high seas.

The helicopter of the French Navy frigate FS De Grasse, currently the flagship of the EU Naval Force in Somalia (EU NAVFOR), spotted boats on a Somali beach on September 16 during a routine patrol. The boats were loaded with what EU NAVFOR described in a press release as “pirate paraphernalia,” which included ladders, extra fuel tanks for long distance high sea travel, grappling hooks and so forth.

The next day the same helicopter re-located the suspected pirates. The group, consisting of three skiffs and a larger ship described as a “whaler,” was heading for the sea lanes. The whaler is used by the small skiffs to refuel on the open ocean.

The De Grasse’s boarding team stopped and boarded the first skiff, removing the suspected pirates’ equipment. The frigate then proceeded at high speed towards the position of the whaler indicated by the helicopter. The whaler was placed under observation.

Two remaining skiffs were also captured and the suspected illegal material removed.

Unfortunately, none of the 12 suspects were caught in the act of piracy so while they could be searched and their illegal equipment seized, they could not be prosecuted. The three skiffs and the whaler were nonetheless destroyed.

The incident raises many issues about the state of international law on the high seas. Current law does not directly prevent piracy as it was not foreseen at the time of drawing up such laws, including the main international treaty, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

As a result, despite having overwhelming firepower and the ability to chase, capture and kill suspected pirates, as well as potentially destroying their bases, international and Somali naval forces have no choice but to treat the pirates as if they were ordinary criminals, like those dumping waste or fishing in a given area illegally.

EU NAVFOR put the best face on the matter, stating that the De Grasse had at least prevented the boats from committing acts of piracy “… against vulnerable merchant vessels.”

The next day the same helicopter re-located the suspected pirates. The group, consisting of three skiffs and a larger ship described as a “whaler,” was heading for the sea lanes. The whaler is used by the small skiffs to refuel on the open ocean.

The De Grasse’s boarding team stopped and boarded the first skiff, removing the suspected pirates’ equipment. The frigate then proceeded at high speed towards the position of the whaler indicated by the helicopter. The whaler was placed under observation.

Two remaining skiffs were also captured and the suspected illegal material removed.

Unfortunately, none of the 12 suspects were caught in the act of piracy so while they could be searched and their illegal equipment seized, they could not be prosecuted. The three skiffs and the whaler were nonetheless destroyed.

The incident raises many issues about the state of international law on the high seas. Current law does not directly prevent piracy as it was not foreseen at the time of drawing up such laws, including the main international treaty, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

As a result, despite having overwhelming firepower and the ability to chase, capture and kill suspected pirates, as well as potentially destroying their bases, international and Somali naval forces have no choice but to treat the pirates as if they were ordinary criminals, like those dumping waste or fishing in a given area illegally.

EU NAVFOR put the best face on the matter, stating that the De Grasse had at least prevented the boats from committing acts of piracy “… against vulnerable merchant vessels.”

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A suspected pirate boat off Somalia
The main boat of the small pirate fleet broken up by the EU NAVFOR frigate, FS De Grasse
Christopher Szabó is based in Pretoria, Gauteng, South Africa, and is an Anchor for Allvoices.
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