At approximately 13:45 (Bahrain time) on Monday, 3 January 2011, Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) was notified of a distress call from the merchant vessel CPO China, a UK flagged tanker, indicating that it was under pirate attack whilst underway in the North Arabian Sea.
The ship reported taking fire from several skiffs and, despite evasive maneuvering, was boarded by the suspected pirates.
The ship’s master mustered his 20 man crew in the ship’s citadel, a secure compartment from where they could retain control of the ship.
Australian frigate HMAS Melbourne, currently serving with CMF’s counter-piracy mission, Combined Task Force 151, was the nearest warship to CPO China and was immediately ordered to assist.
At approximately 17:15, HMAS Melbourne’s helicopter arrived in the vicinity of the CPO China and the warship established communications with the crew. Having been unable to take control of the merchant vessel, and with Melbourne on the scene, the pirates left the ship
The Master of the CPO China reported that all the crew members were safe. At first light the next morning a security team from HMAS Melbourne boarded the ship to ensure it was secure and to assist the crew in exiting the citadel.
A CMF spokesman said, “Somali pirates operate across a vast expanse of sea. They use large mother ships to travel great distance from the Somali coast, from where they can launch fast skiffs to attack international shipping”.
“We are pleased that HMAS Melbourne was close enough to intervene in this instance. However, coalition warships may not always be in the vicinity of a pirate attack. That is why we emphasize that seafarers have the power to greatly reduce their chances of being pirated if they take simple precautions”.
“Mariners transiting these waters should follow the guidance laid out in Best Management Practice Volume 3. Merchant Masters are also advised to regularly check Navigation Area Warnings and liaise closely with Maritime Trade authorities if further guidance is required.”
Other CMF warships have also been involved in disrupting pirate activities in recent days.
On January 2, the U.S. Navy cruiser USS Lake Champlain was ordered to investigate a suspicious vessel that had been spotted in the Gulf of Aden. The vessel displayed the hallmarks associated with the kind of ‘skiff’ commonly used by pirates.
As Lake Champlain launched her helicopter to investigate, the suspicious vessel increased its speed and was seen to be throwing items overboard. The vessel initially refused verbal commands to stop, but ultimately heeded directions after warning shots were fired.
Personnel from Lake Champlain then boarded the skiff and confiscated excess fuel and a motor. The vessel was then released.
CMF’s counter-piracy operation, Combined Task Force (CTF) 151, consists of international warships and patrol aircraft in the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea and Somali Basin. It is commanded by Commodore Abdul Aleem of the Pakistan Navy. In recent months it has included ships from Australia, Singapore, Republic of Korea, Thailand and Turkey, UK and U.S.
CTF 151′s mission is to deter, disrupt and suppress piracy, protecting maritime vessels of any nationality and securing freedom of navigation. In conjunction with other international navies and organisations, CTF 151 conducts patrols in the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor and supports Best Management Practice methods for piracy avoidance that are promoted to the shipping industry.
CTF 151 is one of three task forces operated by Combined Maritime Forces, a 25-nation coalition based in Bahrain. Its main focus areas are defeating terrorism, preventing piracy, encouraging cooperation and promoting a safe maritime environment throughout the
Middle East maritime domain.