A UK frigate captured an armed group of Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden this week but was forced to let them go free as they were not in the process of attacking a merchant vessel, Britain’s Ministry of Defence said.
Nearly a dozen pirates armed with rocket-propelled grenades, machineguns and grappling hooks were seized after two skiffs were detected by the radar on board HMS Portland, a Type 23 frigate.
Commander Tim Henry, suspecting the men were pirates, steamed closer to the skiffs and saw that both vessels were filled with weaponry and ammunition. The ship’s Lynx helicopter was then sent to hover over the skiffs while teams of Royal Marine and navy personnel in rigid inflatable boats sped towards the craft and disarmed the ten men on board.
“While conducting counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden the Royal Navy frigate HMS Portland detected, intercepted and boarded two suspicious skiffs preventing a possible pirate attack,” a UK Navy spokesman said.
“The skiffs were equipped with extra barrels of fuel, grappling hooks and a cache of weapons that included rocket-propelled grenades, machineguns and ammunition.
“In coordination with a Spanish maritime patrol aircraft, HMS Portland’s crew identified, pursued and subsequently conducted a boarding of the suspicious vessels. They found articles that indicated the skiffs had been involved in or were about to conduct an act of piracy, and were clearly not those of innocent fishing vessels.”
Because of the rules of engagement, however, the 10 pirates had to be set free. “We can only arrest suspected pirates if we catch them in the act or on the point of launching an attack on a vessel,” a Royal Navy statement said. “Due to insufficient evidence to directly link the group to a specific attack, the suspected pirates were disarmed and released.”