On Wednesday 18 April, EU Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) Spanish warship, ESPS Infanta Elena rescued 6 Sri Lankan fishermen and their fishing vessel from 7 suspected pirates. The fishing vessel had been in the hands of suspect pirates since November 2011 and was reportedly being used as a mother-ship to launch attacks against merchant shipping in the region.
At sunset on 18 April, 50 miles off the coast of Tanzania, ESPS Infanta Elena identified the pirated vessel and after closing its position, the Spanish boarding team went on board. Once there, they identified the 7 suspected Somali pirates and 6 Sri Lankan crew. The men received much needed medical care and were provided food and water. Earlier the same day, 5 suspect pirates had been arrested by Tanzanian maritime forces when their attack skiff, believed to have been operated from the Sri Lankan vessel, beached on the Tanzanian coast.
The tired, but very relieved Sri Lankan fishermen were handed over to Tanzanian maritime forces close to Dar Es Salaam on 21 April and the European Union, via its delegation in Tanzania helped to ensure that the crew could quickly make contact with their families. Arrangements are now being made to fly the fishermen home to Sri Lanka.
As there is currently no agreement on the transfer of suspect pirates between the European Union and Tanzania, the suspect pirates were released by ESPS Infanta Elena to the Somali coast on Monday 23 April. With the on-going negotiations with the Tanzanian authorities, it is hoped that a transfer agreement will be in place in the near future.
This is the 10th disruption this year of a Pirate Action Group by an EU Naval Force warship. Once again armed pirates have been prevented from carrying out further attacks on ships transiting the Indian Ocean.
Naval Today Staff, April 24, 2012; Image: eunavfor