Monday, September 15, 2008

Taking on pirates off Somalia

HMCS Iroquois in action:
A Canadian warship has helped thwart a pirate attack on an Italian freighter in the Gulf of Aden.

HMCS Iroquois was off the Yemeni coast and 60 kilometres away from the MV Orsolina Bottiglieri when it was pursued by Somali pirates just after sunset on Sept. 3.

"We received a call on the radio and the captain declared that they were being followed," said Commodore Bob Davidson, the Canadian who commands a coalition task force assigned to protect ships in the Gulf of Aden from the growing number of Somali pirates who have been seizing ships and holding their cargoes and crews for ransom.

As the Halifax-based destroyer closed quickly on the Orsolina Bottiglieri, a helicopter from a nearby American warship was also sent to the scene. These actions caused the pirates to flee before they could board the freighter, which was carrying a load of barley from Ukraine to Iran.

"They were using small, fast boats that are pretty hard to find in the dark and we lost them, but we were able to help that fellow (the Italian ship) out," said Commodore Davidson, who transfers command of Task Force 150 to a Danish commodore today in Bahrain. "The captain also helped himself by rigging fire hoses, having all his lights on and by manoeuvring towards us."

Somali pirates are currently holding at least six vessels and their crews and have been involved in several dozen other violent incidents in the Gulf of Aden this year.

Since Canada took command of Task Force 150 three months ago, the flotilla has disrupted at least 11 pirate gangs as they tried to board ships across a vast 110,000-square-kilometre area.

Iroquois and the West Coast-based HMCS Calgary and HMCS Protecteur entered the Indian Ocean in June. The warships were joined last month by HMCS Ville de Québec, which was responding to an emergency appeal by the UN's World Food Program to protect emergency food shipments to drought-ravaged Somalia.

Since then, Ville de Québec has safely escorted freighters carrying more than 21,400 tonnes of UN food through waters made dangerous by years of civil war and terrorism, as well as piracy.

That has been enough food to feed 100,000 people for a year, with several more ships to be escorted into Mogadishu harbour by Ville de Québec before the end of the month.


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