Raw : Canada releases video of night attack on Somali pirates who were trying to hijack a Norwegian cargo ship.
Canadian sailors apprehended a band of Somali pirates at gunpoint early yesterday morning after a seven-hour pursuit across the Gulf of Aden, much of it under the cover of night.
HMCS Winnipeg, sailing off the Horn of Africa as part of a NATO-led anti-piracy mission, was escorting a United Nations food shipment when it happened on a skiff carrying seven bandits attempting to hijack the MV Front Ardenne, an 80,000-tonne tanker from Norway.
The Somalis ignored warning shots fired by a Canadian naval helicopter and fled the scene. HMCS Winnipeg, led by Commander Craig Baines, left the food shipment to other NATO vessels and gave chase.
An American ship also joined the pursuit. It was the Canadians who got to the pirates first.
As darkness fell, Cdr. Baines cut the lights and caught up with the smaller vessel by stealth. After firing another flurry of warning shots, sailors boarded the pirate craft, recovering a rocket-propelled grenade round.
"We blocked their path," Michael McWhinnie, a spokesman for HMCS Winnipeg, told the Reuters news agency.
"We were faster and surprisingly more manoeuvrable than the pirate skiff."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper praised HMCS Winnipeg's 240 crew members, who were sent to the Gulf of Aden earlier this month to join a patrol of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that includes ships from Portugal, the Netherlands, Spain and the U.S.
Still, Mr. Harper was forced to confront what is emerging as a significant weakness in the international effort to combat piracy off Somalia, a lawless country that lacks a governing authority strong enough to crack down on its growing number of the seafaring gangs.
The NATO patrol saved the Norwegian tanker from capture and robbed a gang of bandits of weapons, most of which the pirates tossed into the sea while being chased.
But after all that, the Somalis were released. The Canadian sailors, like their NATO allies, lack the authority to make arrests in international waters.
"We did briefly detain pirates and disarm them," Mr. Harper told reporters after concluding a summit with leaders from the Americas in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. "Those were the appropriate measures under the circumstances."
Asked whether Canada might take a more aggressive role and even fire on pirates' crafts, Mr. Harper said, "We use force when necessary, but only when necessary."
HMCS Winnipeg is one of about 20 warships deployed by members of NATO, the European Union and big exporting nations such as China and India to patrol the Gulf of Aden, one of the world's busiest trade routes.
In 2008, there were 111 pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia, triple the number during the previous year, according to the International Maritime Bureau, a London-based organization that attempts to combat crime on the seas.
Pirates captured 42 of those vessels, including a Saudi supertanker called the Sirius Star and the MV Faina, a Ukrainian ship carrying tanks.
The international armada has had some success in repelling more and more gangs of gun-and-grenade wielding marauders. Before the weekend, there had been 68 attempts this year, but only 18 captures, often of smaller vessels.
Still, there's little sign the pirates are close to letting up.
Many of them are poor fishermen and young unemployed men who have seen their brazenness rewarded with tens of millions of dollars in ransom payments,
Hours before HMCS Winnipeg set off on its chase, the Belgian government confirmed that a 1,850-tonne dredger from that country called the Pompei and the ship's 10 crew members had been taken by bandits.
Also on Saturday, Dutch marines foiled a short-lived hijacking of a Greek-owned tanker, saving about 20 seamen from being added to a hostage list that currently is in excess of 300 people, according to a count by the Associated Press.
Like Canada's sailors, the Dutch were forced to release their captives.
The Canadian and the Dutch sailors, for example, are permitted to detain pirates only if they attack Canadian and Dutch citizens or property. Otherwise, they must disarm them and set them free.
"There have been a lot of comments in the media about how much easier it was a couple hundred years ago, when we could just hang them from the yard arm," Canadian Rear Admiral Bob Davidson said in an interview with CTV's Question Period yesterday. "There's the rule of law that needs to be applied, so we're not currently regularly detaining them, no. There are all kinds of challenges with that."
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