Not a single ship was seized by pirates during the Royal Navy‚Äôs three-month spell in command of a task force patrolling the Indian Ocean for modern-day buccaneers. The ships of Combined Task Force 151 also succeeded in hunting down one pirate action group after the raiders‚Äô two failed attempts to hijack vessels off the Somali coast.
With up to half a dozen ships assigned to it at any one time, Combined Task Force 151 policed an area more than eight times the size of the North Sea.
It hunted down one pirate action group which had tried ‚Äì and failed ‚Äì to hijack two vessels, seizing nine pirates in the process, and destroying their boats.
Despite that success, and the pirates‚Äô failure to take any ships and their crews hostage this autumn, the Royal Navy officer in charge of the task force, Commodore Jeremy Blunden, says the threat remains.
‚ÄúPiracy has been much reduced in recent months but the problem has not gone away,‚Äù he said.
‚ÄúThe swift manner in which the pirates were dealt with should send a clear message ‚Äì that those who are thinking of resuming piracy can expect an unhappy ending.‚Äù
He headed a two-dozen strong Royal Navy staff, joined by sailors from numerous foreign navies who support the 29-nation Combined Maritime Force which is dedicated to security of the seas east of Suez.
‚ÄúI was curious to know how a team consisting of different nationalities, some of whom spoke little English, and various naval backgrounds, would adapt to work with each other,‚Äù said CPO Bernie Dath, the staff‚Äôs coxswain.
‚ÄúIt was great to see how all the staff pulled together and worked as a team in a very short period of time.‚Äù
The task force choreographed the efforts of the ships attached to it from two British naval support vessels: firstly RFA Fort Victoria, which returns to the UK on Monday (December 9) and more recently RFA Fort Austin.
The force concentrated on keeping the pirates holed up in their camps on the Somali ‚Äì and should any slip through the cordon on what Cdre Blunden says ‚Äúis a very long coast with a big bit of water‚Äù.
One group which did get away tried to seize an oil tanker and fishing vessel and was driven away by armed teams on both craft.
Under CTF151‚Äôs direction, the pirates were promptly hunted down by HMAS Melbourne, before they could strike a third time.
During the UK‚Äôs tenure of CTF 151, its units carried out numerous boardings and reassurance visits to merchant vessels and dhows to deter illegal maritime activity and provide security for the maritime community.
Boarding teams visited more than 120 merchantmen and fishing vessels to talk to crew, warn them if there were any suspicious goings on in the area, and offer engineering assistance, medical aid and food and water if required.
The task force‚Äôs helicopters and maritime patrol aircraft flew 850 hours ‚Äì that‚Äôs more than five weeks airborne ‚Äì looking for illegal or unusual activity.
Typically, CTF151 has been directed from a headquarters ashore in Bahrain, which is the hub of operations by the Combined Maritime Force.
The decision to move the staff to sea for three months to direct operations gave them a chance to meet up with other navies and task groups dedicated to the same common aim of security and freedom of the seas mission ‚Äì including NATO, the European Union‚Äôs Naval Force, ships from Japan, India, South Korea and China.
‚ÄúBeing part of the counter-piracy task force protecting the world‚Äôs economy has been a great experience,‚Äù said the US Navy‚Äôs Lieutenant Commander Jay Forsgren, CTF151‚Äôs head of operations.
‚ÄúI learned that piracy is still alive and the reasons why it is not more successful are the military‚Äôs presence and the merchant community‚Äôs practices to deter pirate boardings.‚Äù
The mix of cultures and naval customs made routines and life onboard RFA ships a little different from what many were used to. However the crews of both Fort Victoria and Fort Austin made the embarked staff feel welcome and new friendships were quickly forged.
‚ÄúWe often forget that the Royal Fleet Auxiliary offers a lot more than fuel and stores. We have been particularly well hosted by Fort Victoria and Fort Austin who have both proven that the RFA can offer excellent command ship capability,‚Äù said Cdre Blunden.
‚ÄúThis has been a most interesting and satisfying deployment. Counter-piracy operations are a truly unique international effort. It has been a real delight to have officers and ratings from seven different nations in this staff.‚Äù
Cdre Blunden and his staff will formally hand over command of the force in Bahrain on Thursday (December 12) to a Danish-led team.