Lynx aids capture of suspected pirates
A Royal Navy Lynx helicopter has helped arrest 12 armed suspected pirates who attempted to launch an attack on a merchant vessel sailing 260 miles off the coast of Somalia.
Flight 217 from 815 Naval Air Squadron is currently deployed on board the French frigate FLF Surcouf as part of Operation Atalanta, the EU’s counter-piracy mission off the Horn of Africa.
The Lynx was sent ahead by the French warship to find the suspected pirates after the USS Halyburton, operating as part of NATO’s Ocean Shield, received a distress call from the merchant vessel reporting she was under attack from six men armed with rocket propelled grenades. Although the MSC Jasmine managed to repel the attack themselves, a German EU Maritime Patrol aircraft was scrambled to track the suspect whaler, which was by then towing another boat with several more men on board.
The Royal Navy Lynx sped to the scene and ordered the vessels to stop while French commandos from Surcouf arrived alongside in a fast boat and quickly boarded, resulting in the suspected pirates swiftly surrendering. Upon searching their skiffs, the commandos also discovered containers of diesel and water. All 12 suspects are now being held on board FLF Surcouf for evidence collection in order to fully assess the possibility of prosecution.
Flight Commander of 217, Lieutenant Mike Curd said: “The whole operation was an excellent exercise in teamwork, with the US ship and Surcouf coordinating their efforts, including both units' helicopters, to successfully track the two suspect vessels. Our Lynx actually performed the 'stop' and support to boarding of both the suspect vessels and provided airborne support to the subsequent boarding operations. It was a long and tiring day that began before dawn, but by the end of it we were proud of a job well done; the procedures and routines we'd practised so many times worked extremely efficiently and by nightfall we knew we had played a large part in the successful apprehension of a dozen suspected pirates.”
The deployment of the Royal Navy’s Lynx on board the Surcouf is the first of its kind as part of the terms of the Lancaster House Treaty. Under this the UK and the France agreed military cooperation to assure their international commitments and strengthen their capability.
In a recent press conference held on board Surcouf during her port visit to Port Victoria, Seychelles, the Commanding Officer, Commander Hugues Lainé stressed the importance of not lowering the guard towards piracy, as the threat remains, despite the drop in pirate attacks during the past year.
Operation Atalanta commenced in December 2008 and is focused on the deterrence and repression of acts of piracy and armed robbery off the Somali Coast. The EU mission also provides protection to World Food Programme (WFP) and African Union Mission on Somalia (AMISOM) shipping, together with the protection of vulnerable shipping on a case by case basis and the monitoring of fishing activities.