Seven Somali men face prosecution in Seychelles after Royal Navy helps Spanish fishing vessel under attack
Seven Somalis have been captured in an anti-piracy operation involving a high-speed chase across the Indian Ocean.
The pursuit ended when a sniper on a Royal Navy helicopter started firing at the fleeing vessels. A party of Royal Marines then boarded the ships and sniffer dogs found traces of explosive and firearms.
The men will be taken to the Seychelles for what will be a rare prosecution. The military often have to let suspects go because of the complexities of jurisdiction and evidence gathering on the high seas.
The incident took place on Tuesday when a Royal Navy ship patrolling 350 miles off the coast of Somalia was called to help a Spanish fishing vessel that was under attack.
The Lynx helicopter from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Fort Victoria gave chase to two vessels – a skiff and a whaler. The skiff raced away but stopped when a sniper began firing shots across its bow.
“The Royal Marines then used inflatable dinghies for boarding and the suspects were seized,” said a spokesman. “No shots were fired. They are now being taken to port in the Seychelles where they will be handed over to the police.”
Piracy off Somalia and around the Gulf of Aden has become a huge problem for the merchant navy in recent years. There are currently 50 ships seized and almost 800 people being held hostage.
Sailors have found themselves under attack from strafing machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades. Those that have been held hostage are often subjected to beatings.
The area the pirates operate in is now so vast that capturing them has proved extremely difficult. Suspected pirates often throw their weapons overboard and claim to be fishermen.
On this occasion, the Fort Victoria, which is under the command of Captain Gerry Northwood, had a UK-trained team of spaniels and labradors on board that found the explosive residue.
This will be the first case to be brought against suspected pirates since the UK and the Seychelles signed a memorandum of understanding in July 2009.
Lieutenant Alastair Thompson, a Royal Naval flight commander, said: “We could see the fishing vessel was clearly in trouble. Our actions disrupted the pirates from further attacks.”
The minister for Africa, Henry Bellingham, added: “Too many times in the past pirates have been captured but not prosecuted because of lack of evidence. We must ensure that pirates pay for their actions.”
In September, pirates murdered a British businessman, David Tebbutt, and kidnapped his wife Judith. The couple were on holiday at an exclusive beach resort in Kenya.
Tebbutt, 58, died from a single gunshot wound to his chest. His wife has not been seen since.