A Canadian warship has helped thwart a pirate attack on an Italian freighter in the Gulf of Aden.
HMCS Iroquois was off the Yemeni coast and 60 kilometres away from the MV Orsolina Bottiglieri when it was pursued by Somali pirates just after sunset on Sept. 3.
"We received a call on the radio and the captain declared that they were being followed," said Commodore Bob Davidson, the Canadian who commands a coalition task force assigned to protect ships in the Gulf of Aden from the growing number of Somali pirates who have been seizing ships and holding their cargoes and crews for ransom.
As the Halifax-based destroyer closed quickly on the Orsolina Bottiglieri, a helicopter from a nearby American warship was also sent to the scene. These actions caused the pirates to flee before they could board the freighter, which was carrying a load of barley from Ukraine to Iran.
"They were using small, fast boats that are pretty hard to find in the dark and we lost them, but we were able to help that fellow (the Italian ship) out," said Davidson, who transfers command of Task Force 150 to a Danish commodore on Monday in Bahrain. "The captain also helped himself by rigging fire houses, having all his lights on and by manoeuvring towards us."
Somali pirates are currently holding at least six vessels and their crews and have been involved in several dozen other violent incidents in the Gulf of Aden this year. Since Canada took command of Task Force 150 three months ago, the flotilla has disrupted at least 11 pirate gangs as they tried to board ships across a vast 110,000-square-kilometre area.
Iroquois and the West Coast-based HMCS Calgary and HMCS Protecteur entered the Indian Ocean in June. The warships were joined last month by HMCS Ville de Quebec, which was responding to an emergency appeal by the UN's World Food Programme to protect emergency food shipments to drought-ravaged Somalia.
Since then Ville de Quebec has safely escorted freighters carrying more than 21,400 tonnes of UN food through waters made dangerous by years of civil war and terrorism as well as piracy. That has been enough food to feed 100,000 people for one year, with several more ships to be escorted into Mogadishu harbour by Ville de Quebec before the end of the month.
Since deploying to Afghanistan in 2002, Canada's army has received far more political and public scrutiny in recent years than the navy.
"Our soldiers are getting killed in Afghanistan and they deserve the weight of our attention," Davidson said. "The effort that Canada is putting in there deserves top billing. But what we are doing reminds the Canadian people that this is about more than Afghanistan.
"Canadians perhaps don't understand how much we are a maritime nation. It isn't just about oil, but the price of our groceries and whether we can afford to take vacations. Our navy has a major role to play in diplomacy around the world."
As well as deterring pirates, Canadian sailors have also hunted for smugglers who use the northern Indian Ocean to smuggle contraband to support al-Qaida and Taliban terrorist attacks in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region.
The deployment of 1,000 of Canada's 8,000 sailors to the far side of the world is the Canadian navy's largest undertaking since it sent six warships to the region immediately after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington in 2001. Despite a steep increase in the price of fuel earlier this summer, Davidson's mission is expected to come in under its $56 million budget.
Calgary and Protecteur, which have been on a 196 day, 40,000 nautical mile around-the-world journey that began in April and has involved transits of the Panama and Suez Canals, are now taking part in a brief exercise with the Indian Navy in the Bay of Bengal near the port of Chennai (Madras). The frigate and the supply ship will also visit Thailand, Malaysia and Korea on their way back home.
Iroquois begins its return voyage to Nova Scotia before the end of the month. Ville de Quebec will leave the east coast of Africa for the Mediterranean Sea in a few weeks and is slated to be back in Canada in December.
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