The release of the MT Smyrni and MV Royal Grace reported today and this weekend are big wins, or at least indications of some big steps forward in the war against piracy off Somalia.

Not only did we see the chemical tanker MV Royal Grace unexpectedly released by pirates over the weekend, but news broke Monday that the MT Smyrni, the final tanker under control by Somali pirates, was also released following a ransom payment by the owner. That’s a total of 46 seafarers that can now return to their families for the first time since the first half of 2012.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let us not forget that Somali pirates still hold two vessels–the Omani-flagged FV NAHAM 3 (since May 2012) and the Malaysian-flagged containership MV Albedo (since 26 Nov 2010)–and 60 hostages, so we still have a ways to go. We should also mention that ransoms were paid for the release of both vessels and Somali pirates are still being found roaming the Indian Ocean, albeit in a very limited capacity compared to years prior. For this reason counter-piracy forces in the area have reiterated the fight is not over and that we must not take our guard down.

But with that said, today’s news is still a big deal when it comes to the war against Somali pirates and piracy. So in honoring the release of the vessels and more importantly their crews, here’s a collection of photos of the MV Royal Grace and MT Smyrni sailing free.

MT Smyrni

HOA Pirate Activity, 10– 16 May 2012.

HOA Pirate Activity for 10–16 May 2012.

The MT Smyrni, with a crew of 26, was carrying 135,000 tons of crude oil when she was hijacked on May 11, 2012 while approximately 250nm southeast of Ras Al Madrakah, Oman.

During the attack, ten pirates in two skiffs and armed with automatic weapons chased the ship while underway. The tanker enforced anti piracy measures by increasing speed and making evasive maneuvers, managed to evade the boarding attempt. After regrouping with a mothership, the skiffs launched a second attack on the Smyrni, approaching at a speed of 24 knots and managed to successfully board and hijack the vessel and take hostage the 26 crew members.

After ten months of being held in a pirate anchorage off the Somali coast, it is understood that a ransom was paid for the vessel, and on Sunday March 10, 2013, the Smyrni and her crew were released.

Photo: EU Naval Force

MT Smyrni escorted by an EUNAVFOR warship after a ransom was paid for her release. Photo: EU Naval Force

The released MT Smyrni viewed from the bridge wing of the EUNAVFOR flagship. Photo: EU Naval Force

The released MT Smyrni viewed from the bridge wing of the EUNAVFOR flagship. Photo: EU Naval Force

Photo: EU Naval Force

Photo: EU Naval Force

MV Royal Grace

HOA Pirate Activity for 1–7 March 2012.

HOA Pirate Activity for 1–7 March 2012.

The MV Royal Grace, with a crew of 22, was hijacked on March 2, 2012 while underway approximately 215nm northeast of Masirah, Island, Oman.

Reports originally surfaced that the Panama-flagged tanker was under attack by a pirate skiff in the area, however her whereabouts went mostly unknown until the owners received an email days later from the Master confirming the hijacking.

On Saturday, it was reported that the EU Naval Force warship, the ESPS Mendez Nunez, spotted the Royal Grace sailing north from her pirate anchorage at a speed of 4 knots. Shortly afterwards, the ESPS Méndez Núñez received a radio call from the master of MV Royal Grace, who confirmed that his ship was now freed and that his 20-man crew were in need of food, water and medical assistance.

MV Royal Grace is currently en route to Muscat under the watchful eye of another EU Naval Force warship, the ESPS Rayo.

Photo EU Naval Force

MV Royal Grace escorted by a EUNAVFOR warship after being released. Photo EU Naval Force

EUNAVFOR boarding team pulls along side and prepares to board the Royal Grace. EU Navf

EUNAVFOR boarding team pulls along side and prepares to board the Royal Grace. EU Naval Force

Photo EU Naval Force

Close up of the MV Royal Grace. Photo EU Naval Force

Photo EU Naval Force

A boarding team treats crewmembers of the MV Royale Grace. Photo EU Naval Force

Photo EU Naval Force

Crewmembers of the Royal grace fed yellow cake and water following their release. Photo EU Naval Force

PS – I’ve received some criticism for referring to the release of the Smyrni and Royal Grace as ‘victories’ considering ransoms were paid. I’m prepared to defend those statements with this:

46 of 106 hostages have been freed in the last week = victory – or at least a big step forward – in my book.

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