- EU’s new anti-pirate force attacks bases on the coastline for the first time
- Ministry of Defence release pictures of chopper from HMS Westminster
10:49 EST, 15 May 2012
02:46 EST, 16 May 2012
Flames erupt into the sky from a skiff floating adrift in the Indian Ocean, a powerful demonstration of the Royal Navy’s might as it fights the scourge of Somali piracy.
The boat was blown out of the water by a Merlin helicopter, flown from HMS Westminster, which strafed the vessel, setting fire to fuel tanks.
The pirate crew fled to another vessel before the attack, but were among 12 arrested without a fight by boarding teams from the frigate shortly after.
HMS Westminster’s Merlin 502 firing at the pirate skiff, and fire starting on impact, as the ship disrupted piracy in the Indian Ocean
Fire from HMS Westminster’s Merlin 502 strafes the boat before it bursts into flames
The Merlin 502 flies off after destroying the pirate skiff in an awesome display of force
HMS Westminster is boosting security off the East African coast as part of Combined Task Force 150, one of three international naval groups set up to defeat terrorism, tackle piracy and stop the trafficking of people and drugs.
It has carried out three counter-piracy missions in a seven-month tour of duty in the Indian Ocean.
The 4,900-ton vessel, with 185 crew, has played a key role in deterring bandits who prey on merchant ships off the volatile Horn of Africa, seizing hostages and demanding huge ransoms.
A Navy spokesman said: ‘Using the Merlin’s powerful sensors, we found the suspected pirates and identified weapons, excessive fuel, ladders and more people than you would expect to find for any other purpose in small boats, hundreds of miles from land in the Indian Ocean.
‘Faced with an overwhelming display of force, the suspected pirates immediately surrendered.’
Photographs of last month’s successful operation were released yesterday by the Ministry of Defence.
Boarding teams from HMS Westminster begin to board a pirate vessel containing 12 suspected pirates
The operation was launched as the EU extended its counter-piracy operation off the coast of Somalia
HMS Westminster also smashed a gang of terrorist drug smugglers who were caught trafficking pure heroin worth £14million last month. Seventy bales containing 400lb of the class-A drug were seized.
The raid was hailed as ‘a dark day for terrorists’ after intelligence suggested the yellow packages were due to be traded to fund terror groups such as Al Qaeda.
The EU’s naval mission logo. A European naval helicopter fired at pirate-owned supplies on the Somali coastline today
Meanwhile, European anti-piracy forces yesterday carried out their first air attack on mainland Somalia, strafing a beach from a helicopter and destroying pirate boats, fuel supplies and an arms cache. The helicopter from the EU Naval Force struck pirate bases near the port of Haradheere, 220 miles north of the capital Mogadishu.
The night raid, launched from one of nine European warships patrolling nearby, was designed to ‘make life as difficult for pirates on land as we’re making it at sea’, an EU military official said.
It was ordered after weeks of surveillance from aircraft.
Five small attack boats were ‘rendered inoperable’ and pirates said the strike also hit drums of diesel and a weapons store.
‘An unidentified helicopter destroyed five of our hunting boats early in the morning,’ said one pirate, who identified himself only as Abdi. ‘We were setting off from the shore when the helicopter attacked us. We ran away.’
The EU recently agreed to expand its anti-piracy mission, Operation Atalanta, to let forces attack land targets as well as those at sea. No one was injured in yesterday’s raid, which did not involve British forces.