Support ship Fort Victoria helped thwart an attack as pirates fired rockets at a merchant ship off Oman.
04 July 2011
Ten pirates in a couple of skiffs made repeated efforts to storm the bulk carrier MV Sagar Ratan with boarding ladders.
It flashed an SOS as it took evasive manoeuvres to defend itself some 150 miles southwest of the Omani capital Muscat.
RFA Fort Victoria was the nearest naval vessel in the area and made straight for the 61,000-tonne merchant ship’s position, punching through heavy seas caused by a monsoon.
At the same time, the American carrier USS Ronald Reagan launched two F/A-18 Hornets, which buzzed over the skiffs, still trying to storm the Singaporean-flagged Sagar Ratan.
The combined effect of Fort Victoria presence, the US jets and the guile and bravery of the merchantman’s own crew, who came under attack from five rocket-propelled grenades as they took evasive action, caused the pirates to break off their attack.
“Had it not been for Fort Victoria’s swift intervention, another innocent vessel would have fallen into pirate hands and more seamen would have suffered the fate of being held as hostages,”
said the ship’s Commanding Officer Capt Ian Pilling RFA.
That brought an end to the attack on the Sagar Ratan, but not an end to the drama because Fort Vic – a one-stop support ship which is accompanying the UK’s Cougar amphibious task group in the Middle East – helped anti-piracy commanders monitor the scourge.
The auxiliary shadowed the pirates’ mother ship – the Taiwanese fishing vessel Shiuh Fu No.1, hijacked off Madagascar on Christmas Day last year and now being used by the marauders to launch attacks throughout the Indian Ocean.
Fort Vic spent four days stalking the Shiuh Fu No.1 and the five small skiffs it uses to carry out hijackings, warning merchantmen in the area to stay clear. At the same time a helicopter from the cruiser USS Gettysburg carried out surveillance flights of the pirated vessel.
The RFA eventually broke off its shadowing mission and re-joined the Cougar force, led by flagship HMS Albion, while another Allied warship in the region continued to track the Shiuh Fu No.1’s movements.
The monsoon period is due to end imminently which means an upsurge in pirate activity is feared. As of the end of June some 400 seafarers were being held hostage by the modern-day buccaneers, and at least 20 vessels are in the hands of pirates.