Captain’s Rescue Ups Stakes In Piracy Ops
Published: April 14, 2009 (Issue # 1465)
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — The killing of three Somali pirates in the dramatic U.S. Navy rescue of a cargo ship captain has sparked concern for other hostages and fears that the stakes have been raised for future hijackings in the busy Indian Ocean shipping lane.
Sunday’s rescue of Captain Richard Phillips followed a shootout at sea on Friday by French navy commandos, who stormed a pirate-held sailboat, killed two pirates and freed four French hostages. The French owner of the vessel was also killed in the assault.
The two operations may have been a setback for the pirates, but they are unlikely to quell the brigands, who have vowed to avenge the deaths of their comrades.
Experts indicated that piracy in the Indian Ocean off Somalia, which transformed one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes into one of its most dangerous, has entered a new phase with the Navy SEAL rescue operation of Phillips.
It “could escalate violence in this part of the world, no question about it,” said Vice Admiral Bill Gortney, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command.
The International Maritime Bureau said Monday it supported the action by the U.S. and French navies, but cautioned it may spark retaliatory moves by pirates.
“We applaud the U.S. and the French action. We feel that they are making the right move, although the results sometimes may be detrimental,” said Noel Choong of the IMB’s piracy center in Kuala Lumpur.
He did not elaborate, but for families of the 228 foreign nationals aboard 13 ships still held by pirates, the fear is revenge on their loved ones.
“Those released are lucky, but what about those who remain captive?” said Vilma de Guzman, the wife of Filipino seafarer Ruel de Guzman.
He has been held by pirates since Nov. 10 along with the 22 other Filipino crew of the chemical tanker MT Stolt Strength.
The U.S. rescue operation “might be dangerous (for) the remaining hostages because the pirates might vent their anger on them,” she said.
So far, Somali pirates have never harmed captive foreign crews except for a Taiwanese crew member who was killed under unclear circumstances. In fact, many former hostages say they were treated well and given sumptuous food.
The pirates had operated with near-impunity in the Gulf of Aden north of Somalia, and more recently in waters south of the country after a multinational naval force began patrolling the Gulf.
Choong said there have been 74 attacks this year with 15 hijackings as compared to 111 attacks for all of last year.
The modus operandi of the pirates is simple: Board unarmed or lightly armed merchant ships, fire shots in the air or at the hull to intimidate the crew, divert the ships to hide-outs on the Somali coast and wait for the owners to pay millions of dollars in ransom.