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IT’S not long gone 7am on a
Saturday morning.
IN THE second of our features from HMS
The shrill whistle of call the hands Kent, we follow the ship’s company as they
has barely faded over the main
gear up to join the war against pirates in
Tattooed senior rates wander along
the Indian Ocean. Richard Hargreaves
2 Deck, towels wrapped fi rmly around
their nether regions.
The loudspeaker crackles into
life once more. The voice is that
Which they did with worrying If the pirates are fairly well informed
of Operations Offi cer Lt Cdr Mike
regularity in 2008. Attacks on a French about shipping movements, then
luxury yacht and a merchantman thankfully the ‘police’ are well informed
The ship is about to sweep the
carrying old tanks received widespread about dubious characters on the high
Indian Ocean for suspicious shipping.
publicity. But the Malaysian vessels seas.
The emphasis through this sweep’s
Bunga Melati Dua and Bunga Melati For a start, the RN’s Maritime Trade
seven-year history has been anti:
Lima, for example did not. Operation in Dubai sends out constant
anti-terrorism: anti-arms smuggling,
Pirates armed with pistols, rifl es, reports and updates on pirate attacks
anti-drugs smuggling, and anti-people
bombs and grenade launchers to mariners.
traffi cking.
seized the vessels, then held men Meanwhile in Bahrain, the Coalition
Now we’re upping the anti (groan –
and machines hostage for a good six Naval Headquarters produces a
Ed): anti-piracy.
weeks; the owners eventually paid ‘most wanted’ list (offi cially ‘Vessels
Throughout those seven years, the
an estimated US $2m ransom. The Of Interest’, or VOI) which it would
pirates have been there. It’s just that
marauders also made off with mobile welcome inspecting.
their attacks seem to be increasing –
phones, electronic goods, clothes, The fi rst vessel we come across is
and increasingly brazen.
even football strips. the dhow Al Jask. It’s not on the list.
The time has come to do something
It’s the cost of piracy which has There’s a brief chat with her, then she’s
about it.
brought it to the attention of national allowed on her way. She’s not to be
“What we do today demands 100 per
leaders. contacted by another Allied warship
cent commitment from all of the ship,”
Attacks = increased insurance for at least ten days – you don’t want
Lt Cdr Klidjian reminds his shipmates.
costs = increased shipping costs = to irritate her captain.
“Things develop quickly and we must
increased cost of goods in the shops = The MV Luna is another proposition.
respond to them quickly.
angry public = pressure on politicians She is on the list. As it happens,
“This is a very real threat. Take the
= pressure on she’s not a pirate
fi ght to the enemy.”
the military to do “We cannot ignore vessel but a suspected
In fact, today there is no real enemy.
the piracy threat – it
drug smuggler, and
Today, HMS Kent is practising for her
Which is why fi rst Bahrain wants her
anti-piracy patrol.
Cumberland and
is a global issue.”
And a few things are worth pointing
Northumberland, Hailing – calling by
out before she does so.
now Kent, and – Cdr Simon Hopper radio – the Luna falls
For one thing, this wasn’t part of
soon Portland are to AB(Sea) Nicola
her original Far East deployment. It’s
conducting patrols ‘Mini’ Cooper,
a detour on the long road home from
off the east coast of Africa. a sparky junior rating with a rather
strong Geordie accent.
For another thing – and despite
Morally, the campaign against piracy She’s a veteran ‘hailer’ from a tour
what you might read in the British
is a black and white affair. Pirates = of duty in the northern Gulf, where the
media – the sweep is not suddenly
bad. Stopping them = good. responses to her questions fl uctuated
just about pirates. We’d be rather
If only the reality was that simple. from fl attery and imitation to downright
remiss if we clamped down on pirates
For a start, who’s responsible for insulting.
and let those drug-runners, people-
Britain’s piracy policy? “Sometimes the vessels cannot
smugglers and terrorists swan around
The Navy? Customs? Coastguard? stand the fact you are a woman and
Foreign Offi ce? Home Offi ce even? will say quite bluntly: ‘Your mother is
And then there are those ‘pirates’.
Nope, the Department of Transport. a slut’ or they’ll refuse to talk to you
Banish all preconceptions of swash
Trade on the high seas, you see. and you have to get a man to speak to
and buckle.
And while the department believes them,” she explains.
Pirates do not:
mariners are right to be concerned “Other times, they’ll imitate my
about the piracy threat, it’s worth accent or perhaps say: ‘My last port of
(a) wear eye patches,
putting the problem in perspective. call, pretty lady, was…’ They like the
(b) have parrots on their
For every 16,000 vessels passing fact there’s a female voice out there.”
through the Gulf of Aden each year, It can take Mini ten minutes or an
(c) cry “Arr, Jim lad.”
15,884 make it through safely. hour to complete her hailing (and
Pirates are, however:
What does worry Whitehall, sometimes the vessels ignore the calls
however, is the growing number of all day).
(a) well-armed,
attacks around Somalia. To a layman, the questions asked
(b) well-informed and
“We cannot ignore the piracy threat,” are pretty innocuous: the name of
(c) well-organised.
says Kent’s Commanding Offi cer Cdr the ship, the name of the master,
They often use mother boats – large Simon Hopper. “It’s a global issue last port of call, next port of call,
dhows towing smaller, faster craft. – particularly in the current fi nancial cargo. And, as this is an Allied
They are motivated by money – they situation. I’m delighted that the UK effort, you ask whether they
are not necessarily prepared to die for has acknowledged there is a threat know about the Coalition
their ‘cause’ like terrorists. and that it has asked the military to mission and hearts and
And they use our ‘weapons’ against look into dealing with it.” minds-related queries.
us. The AIS system beloved by Allied The RN hasn’t really tackled pirates
ships to keep tabs on maritime trade since the days of ‘Arr, Jim lad’.
is also beloved by the pirates (you There’s not an ‘anti-piracy handbook’
can buy the kit on the internet cheaply to dig out (although there is a wealth
enough...) to keep tabs on maritime of experience of other boarding
trade so they can plan their attacks operations to call upon).
and pick high-value targets.
● AB(WS) Stu McLaughin and AB(CIS) Matt Thomson stand guard during a
es: la(phot) owen king, frpu east
DEC 2008
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