London: British marines detained four
suspected pirates and freed 20 crew members who had been held
hostage on a pirate "mothership" in the Indian Ocean, the
government said today.
The Ministry of Defence said that the dhow had been
hijacked by pirates to use as a base and was involved in
attacks on merchant shipping.
The ministry said pirates were holding a Pakistani crew
of 20 on board when the British vessels HMS Somerset and RFA
Fort Victoria -- part of NATO`s counter-piracy task force --
closed in on the dhow on October 14 320 kilometers off the
coast of Somalia.
"This operation demanded high levels of seamanship to
ensure that the dhow was kept under close observation as the
boarding party moved in," said Capt Shaun Jones.
Backed up by a helicopter, a boarding team surrounded the
dhow and scaled the side of the sailing vessel a "quite tense"
experience, according to the boarding team`s commander.
"Through my weapon sight I could see dark figures moving
in the shadows on the bridge," said Capt Rod Yapp. "We quickly
boarded and secured the dhow, then mustered the 24 occupants
on her bow."
While pirates were seen ditching equipment and weapons
before the boarding and setting a skiff adrift, the ministry
said a "large cache" of weapons, including a rocket-propelled
grenade, and equipment from a previously pirated ship were
found on board.
The ministry said the four suspected pirates have been
handed over to Italian authorities on suspicion of involvement
in the attack on the Italian cargo vessel MV Montecristo on
Pirates attacked the Montecristo 1,000 kilometres off
Somalia as the crew was hauling scrap iron to Vietnam on a
journey that had begun on September 20 in Liverpool, England.
British and US forces freed the cargo ship in a dramatic
rescue last week after retrieving a message in a bottle tossed
by hostages from a porthole alerting ships nearby that the
crew was safely sealed inside an armored area.