The Dutch navy claimed a rare victory in the war against international piracy yesterday after marines abseiled from a helicopter to seize control of a captured container ship following a shootout with Somali hijackers.
One Dutch marine was slightly injured during the storming of the German ship MS Taipan, which had been boarded early on Monday by 10 Somali pirates from small boats armed with machine guns. The 15-man German crew of MS Taipan had radioed for help after taking refuge in a secure cabin on board the ship.
The Dutch frigate Tromp was called to the scene and caught up with the MS Taipan some 560 miles off the Somali coast because the German crew had managed to shut down the ship's engines. The vessel was almost at a standstill as the pirates boarded, the Dutch navy said.
What followed was the stuff of a James Bond film: after the Dutch frigate attempted to negotiate with the pirates but failed, a helicopter gunship from the Tromp took off and machine-gunned the bridge of the MS Taipan. Minutes later the helicopter hovered over containers on the bow of the MS Taipan allowing a unit of heavily armed marines to abseil on to the deck, storm the vessel and retake it.
Despite the damage to the ship's bridge, the MS Taipan was then able to continue its voyage from the Kenyan port of Mombasa to Djibouti. The marines detained the 10 Somali pirates on board the ship.
The raid was described as an exceptional feat yesterday as most attempts to stop piracy on the high seas usually result in captured ships being left in the hands of their hijackers because of fears for the safety of the crew.
Last year, Germany dispatched 200 members of its elite GSG9 commando unit to East Africa in an attempt to free the German freighter Hansa Stavanger from Somali pirates. However they made no attempt to retake the ship because of concerns about the crew.
Piracy increased globally by 40 per cent last year, with almost half of the 406 incidents attributed to Somalis.
Separately, the South Korean navy said it was shadowing the South Korean supertanker Samho Dream, which was hijacked by pirates 700 miles south of the Gulf of Aden on Sunday. The 300,000-tonne ship is said to have a cargo of oil worth £105m.
The tanker was sailing toward Somalia's coast, South Korea's foreign ministry said. "It looks like negotiations might happen, but we can't confirm anything because the hostages as well as the oil tanker are at risk," said Lim Jeong-taek, a foreign ministry spokesman.
Previously, when Somali pirates have captured supertankers, naval forces patrolling the Gulf of Aden have only moved close to where the vessels have been anchored to monitor them until they are released.
Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991 and its lawless coastline is a haven for pirates. At least 17 ships and more than 240 crew are believed to be held by pirates off the coast of Somalia. Large ransoms have become a way to make money in the impoverished nation.
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