HMS Westminster smashed the actions of three pirate groups in a fortnight – sending the boats to the bottom of the Indian Ocean. The Portsmouth-based warship treated the skiffs to a Viking funeral, blasting them out of the water with her guns and those of her Merlin helicopter.
With orange-red flames billowing up in a gigantic mushroom and black smoke drifting across the Indian Ocean, this is one of three pirate action groups whose nefarious activities were brought to a halt in a fortnight by HMS Westminster.
In each case, the Portsmouth-based warship pounced after the pirates had tried – but failed – to hijack merchant shipping in the Indian Ocean.
As the ship sprinted to the scene her Merlin was sent aloft; when they located the action groups, the helicopters crew invariably found the small craft crammed with weapons, extra fuel, ladders and more people than you would expect to find for any other purpose – hundreds of miles from land.
The sight of the Merlin, with Royal Marines Commando snipers in the back, and 5,000 tonnes of armed-to-the-teeth battleship grey bearing down on them, the suspects began ditching their pirate paraphernalia over the side and into the depths of the Indian Ocean.
In the face of such overwhelming force, the suspects themselves immediately surrendered and Westminster’s boarding team of Royal Marines and Royal Navy personnel secured them while evidence was gathered for the authorities in Combined Task Force 151, the international naval group to which the ‘capital ship’ is currently assigned.
With the ‘bust’ complete, the action groups’ vessels were destroyed – boats, fuel, engines, communications kit, weaponry – by the guns of the Merlin, or the guns of Westminster herself, with suitably fiery results by day or night.
“They have nowhere to hide and, as the pictures show, we also have the hardware to really spoil their day!” said Lt Cdr Kay Burbidge, Senior Observer of 829 Naval Air Squadron who is currently embarked aboard Westminster with the ship’s Merlin flight.
“With the Merlin’s superior endurance and sophisticated sensors we can cover large areas of ocean to search for pirates and smugglers.”
Her ship is now nearly at the half-way point of her east of Suez patrol, having already sailed more than 18,000 miles keeping the sea lanes safe.
Last month she dealt another high-profile blow to criminal activities in the region when she snared £14m of drugs on a dhow.
Westminster’s triple counter-piracy success came as the EU Naval Forces struck at the pirates’ bases in Somalia.
A helicopter from one of the nine warships assigned to Operation Atalanta, the European Union anti-piracy mission which is currently commanded by the UK’s Rear Admiral Duncan Potts, struck at “supplies on the shoreline”, attacking from the air; no ‘boots’ went in on the ground.
“The action against pirate supplies on the shoreline is merely an extension of the disruption actions carried out against pirate ships at sea and Operation Atalanta remains committed to fighting piracy off the Horn of Africa and the humanitarian mission of protecting World Food Programme ships that bring vital aid to the Somali people,” said Rear Admiral Potts.
“We believe this action by the EU Naval Force will further increase the pressure on, and disrupt pirates’ efforts to get out to sea to attack merchant shipping and dhows.
“The local Somali people and fishermen – many of whom have suffered so much because of piracy in the region, can be reassured that our focus was on known pirate supplies and will remain so in the future.”
Naval Today Staff , May 17, 2012; Image: royalnavy