25 April 2012K
The South African Navy played a key role in a major multi-national operation that saw 12 suspected pirates captured and six Sri Lankan hostages rescued off the coast of Tanzania last week.
Revealing the operation on Wednesday, the navy said a suspected pirate mother ship had coincidentally been spotted off the Tanzanian coast during a search the previous weekend for the South African yacht Dandelion.
South African Navy ship the SAS Drakensberg, which is equipped for anti-piracy operations and was busy patrolling the Mozambican Channel at the time, was helping the French Navy when the pirate suspects were spotted last Monday.
“The pirate mother ship, with a skiff in tow, was identified as the Sri Lankan fishing vessel Nimesha Duwak which was captured by pirates on 9 November last year,” the navy said in a statement.
Search and rescue becomes pirate hunt
Around midday on the Monday, Dandelion was found safe and sound off the coast of Mozambique, and the search and rescue operation shifted to a “piracy interdiction operation” involving the SAS Drakensberg, the Tanzanian Navy and European naval units busy operating off Somalia.
By the Monday afternoon, the Tanzanian Navy had given South Africa permission to conduct anti-piracy operations within its territorial waters, and the hunt was on.
Over next 24 hours, the SAS Drakensberg and its South African Air Force helicopter scoured the cluttered Tanzanian coast – applying the crucial pressure from the south that eventually drove the pirates into the hands of the European and Tanzanian vessels closing in from the north.
By midday last Wednesday, the pirates had been forced to split up, and the Tanzanian authorities subsequently found the skiff and arrested five suspected pirates on Songo Songo Island.
“Wednesday evening saw units from four different countries closing in on the estimated position of the pirate mother ship,” the navy said.
“The Spanish warship got there first and managed to capture the vessel by 20:30. Seven suspected pirates were apprehended and the six long-suffering Sri Lankan crew members were finally freed.”
The suspects were all handed over to the Tanzanian authorities, who would now start navigating “the legal minefield of prosecuting them for crimes committed in International waters”.
The successful operation had sent out a clear message that the South African National Defence Force, as part of the armed forces of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), “will not allow illegal activities within SADC waters,” the navy said.
“It is also clear that the tripartite agreement between South Africa, Mozambique and Tanzania, and the subsequent deployment of SADC forces to safeguard our sea lanes, is paying dividends in ensuring the safety of our seafarers and their precious cargoes.”