Paskal - the commandos from Royal Malaysian Navy (photo : Malaysian DoD)
KUALA LUMPUR: There was drama aplenty in the Gulf of Aden when commandos from a Royal Malaysian Navy auxilliary ship stormed and rescued a hijacked Malaysian chemical tanker and its crew from Somali pirates, early yesterday.
The Shipborne Protection Team, comprising special forces from the combined Armed Forces tri-services, swung into action from the RMN’s Bunga Mas 5.
Their swift and timely action saved the lives and limbs of the 23 crew. It also salvaged the tanker laden with lubricating oil and ethylene dichloride, all of which is believed to be worth in excess of an estimated RM30 million.
Bunga Mas 5’s effort resulted in the capture of seven Somali pirates, three of whom were injured in the ensuing gun battle with the commandos.
Relating the high drama, RMN chief Admiral Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Jaafar said MT Bunga Laurel, hired by the Malaysian International Shipping Corporation (MISC), was on its way from the gulf to Singapore when it was attacked by the pirates about 300 nautical miles (555km) east of Oman at 11.40pm on Thursday.
“The drama unfolded just two hours after the Bunga Mas 5 had completed escorting the tanker and another MISC liquefied natural gas carrier, MT Seri Balhaf, to a safe zone called Easton 4 in the gulf.
“This is the waypoint where we cease our escort duty,” he said.
Abdul Aziz said under the cover of darkness, seven pirates armed with AK-47 assault rifles, light machine guns and pistols suddenly emerged from a skiff boat and began boarding the tanker, firing at random.MT Seri Balhaf was spared.
RMN's Bunga Mas 5 (photo : Secure Malaysia)
“At the same time, a mother ship with 18 pirates on board began its assault on the tanker.“
The alarmed tanker crew activated the Ship Security Alert System before taking cover in a specially-designed security compartment near the vessel’s engine room,” Abdul Aziz said.
Responding to the SOS distress signal Bunga Mas 5, which was 14 nautical miles (25.9km) away, sped towards the tanker at 1.20am.
The navy’s Fennec attack helicopter went airborne to provide reconnaissance and aerial gunfire from its mounted general purpose machine gun.
“Several shots on target from the helicopter kept the pirate’s mother ship at bay. This preventive measure saved the tanker from serious damage and minimised the risk on its crew.
“Simultaneously, the commandos boarded the tanker and subdued the pirates. It was all over within minutes. There were no injuries on the Malaysians, while the three injured pirates were given first-aid,” said Abdul Aziz.
Following interrogation with the authorities, he confirmed that all seven captured pirates were Somalis who admitted that they had used one of the previously captured vessels as their mother ship.
‘What’s baffling is that they seemed to know our movements, including even the 300-nautical mile extended envelope in the gulf. They are ruthless and their threats are for real,” said Abdul Aziz.
He added all concerned were glad that the episode was over and MISC officials are believed to have cleared the tanker fit to continue its journey.
Bunga Mas 5 has a crew of 21 MISC supporting personnel and 39 Shipborne Protection Team members from the Armed Forces, specialising in various trades.
There are four teams, inclusive of six special force members, deployed for the two-day escort duty shift in the gulf under Operasi Fajar launched since June 21, 2009.
Bunga Mas 5 can escort up to three vessels at a time, including foreign ships as requested by international authorities.
Pirate gangs operating along Somalia’s 1,900 miles-long (3,100 km) coastline have become increasingly brazen, accounting for the capture of 32 commercial vessels to date to seek ransoms.
The Gulf of Aden, sandwiched between Somalia and Yemen, is the main sea route between Europe and Asia where vessels ply the Suez Canal.
Two other piracy incidents also took place in the gulf and its vicinity, the last 48 hours.
South Korean navy commandos stormed the Samho Jewelrya hijacked by Somali pirates about 1,300 kilometres (800 miles) off northeast Somalia in the Indian Ocean, rescuing all the 21 crew and killing eight pirates.
The 11,500-ton ship, with eight South Koreans, two Indonesians and 11 from Myanmar was hijacked on January 15 in the Arabian Sea when it was en route to Sri Lanka from the United Arab Emirates.
In the second separate incident, pirates hijacked the Syrian-owned bulk carrier MV Khaled Muhieddine with 25 crew approximately 330 nautical miles southeast of the Omani coastal port of Salalah on Thursday night.
The Togo-flagged vessel, with a deadweight of 24,022 tonnes, was on passage from Singapore to Al Hudaydah in Yemen with 22 Syrians and three Egyptians on board.
(New Straits Times)