Russia seeks go-ahead with attack

Thursday October 23 2008

The Russian destroyer Neustrashimy enroute to

The Russian destroyer Neustrashimy enroute to Somalia crosses the Suez Canal waterway at the south gate, about 100 km southeast of Cairo on Tuesday. The destroyer passed through the Suez Canal on Tuesday on its way to tackle piracy in the waters of Somalia, sources at the Suez Canal Authority said. Photo/REUTERS 

By DOMINIC WABALA and AGENCIES

Russia has asked Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government for permission to use force in its territorial waters to tackle piracy.

If granted, then the Russian warship, Neustrashimy, which is scheduled to arrive off the Somalia coast any time now, will launch a strike to repossess the Ukrainian ship, mv Faina, which was hijacked 29 days ago.

“To ensure freedom of actions to fight piracy directly in Somalia’s territorial waters, the Foreign Ministry of Russia has requested the agreement of the Interim Federal Government of the Somali Republic to grant the Russian Federation ‘cooperating state’ status,” the ministry said in a statement.

Improve maritime

The statement further said that Russia, in cooperation with other states, intends to undertake all measures sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council to improve maritime situation in the Gulf of Aden region.

The Russian warship was dispatched to the Gulf of Aden after the Ukrainian ship carrying weapons was hijacked last month.

Neustrashimy sailed through the Suez Canal on Monday on its way to the pirate-infested waters of Hobyo, according to Reuters news agency.

It joined six American warships and a similar number of Nato frigates already there, and will be joined later this year by a European Union fleet.

The Russian warship arrives as the Nato task force commander, US admiral Mark Fitzgerald, said it would be difficult to tackle the hijacking because pirates have to attack before it is confirmed that they are bandits.

Pirates have hijacked more than 30 ships this year and received ransoms totalling between 18 million and 30 million dollars, according to British think-tank- Chatam House.

Mr Fitzgerald said that while he was aware of where the pirates were operating, there was little he could do militarily to stop them.

Guidelines on how to take them on were yet to be issued by the North Atlantic council, which was working on the rules of engagement, he told reporters on Monday during a briefing on US naval operations in Europe and Africa.

Six Nato members have contributed warships to participate in the anti-piracy operations in what has now become the most dangerous waters in the world.

Security experts say there is a window of only about 15 minutes for a navy ship to respond to a distress call and get to another ship that is being hijacked. Once pirates are on board, there’s little, legally, that can be done.

Taken hostage

“You’ve got a very short window, a short time span, from the point where they decide to board a ship and (actually) board it. If you’re not right there, there’s not much you can do, and once the ship is taken hostage, then...”

A senior British naval commander admitted last week that it was essentially a legal minefield trying to take on the pirates, and urged commercial ships operating in the region to hire their own private security companies to deal with the threat.

Mr Fitzgerald said his task force would focus on escorting World Food Programme ships trying to deliver aid to Somalia. Meanwhile, the pirates are still holding the crew aboard the mv Faina.