Naval forces capture 35 suspected pirates.
European anti-piracy naval forces have captured 35 suspected pirates over the past four days and thwarted six separate attacks on vessels in the Gulf of Aden.
The surge in naval activity has been touted by commanders as the most successful mission since the European Union began operations off Somali in 2008. It came as part of a targeted tightening of security in the region to coincide with the end of the monsoon season and an anticipated increase in pirate activity.
However, despite the naval clampdown pirates still managed to hijack the 9,224 dwt Marshal Islands flagged chemical tanker UBT Ocean. Norwegian owners Broevigtank confirmed that the vessel was taken by pirates of the coast of Madagascar on a voyage from United Arab Emirates to Dar El Salam late Friday evening.
The tanker"s Singaporean operators, Nautictank, said it had received no word from the vessel since it was boarded, however AIS signals suggest that the vessel is now stationary off the coast of Mogadishu.
?We are doing everything we can to establish contact and our sole concern right now is the safety of our crew. We have no contact whatsoever with the vessel, or the master, or the pirates,? Nautictank spokesman Edward Ion said. He said they knew little besides the fact that the vessel was moving north towards Somalia.
The vessel had not registered with the naval security centre MSC HOA when it was attacked, however it had taken a route well south of the zone where pirates usually operate, according to Broevigtank. Mr Ion added the status of the vessel"s 21 crew members, whom he identified as Burmese nationals, remained unknown.
Despite the UBT Ocean hijack, the successful capture of 35 suspected pirates in the space of just a few days has been welcomed as a major success for the EU naval forces operating in the region. The weekend"s operations saw a number of motherships and skiffs used by the pirates destroyed and a number of attacks were avoided in the crackdown.
Their achievements, however, have left the EU with a significant number of detainees that they now need to deal with.
EU Navfor spokesman John Harbour told Lloyd"s List that officers aboard the French frigate Nivose, which was central to the operations and is now holding the 35 suspects, are still examining the evidence against those being detained. While all suspects were caught by naval forces in anti-piracy operations, there may not be enough evidence to prosecute all of them and many could potentially be set free.
Cmdr Habour could not confirm how many of the 35 suspects currently being detained were likely to be prosecuted, however he did admit that the quality of the evidence against several of the detainees was less conclusive than others. Several of the pirates threw objects thoughts to be guns and ladders overboard before they were detained by naval boarding teams.
A total of 75 suspected pirates have been handed over to prosecuting authorities by EU naval forces since operations began. To date none of them have been convicted, however Navfor expects one trial to reach a conclusion in Kenya early next month.
Kenya has taken on the prosecution of the majority of the suspected pirates handed over by EU naval forces, however the legal system is already overburdened and problems obtaining witnesses and preparing cases have so far slowed action in many cases.