Royal Navy captures 13 Somali pirates

Warning shots fired from Royal Navy helicopter above pirate dhow Warning shots fired by Royal Marine maritime snipers from a Royal Navy Lynx Mark 8 helicopter failed to stop the pirate vessel

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The Royal Navy has captured 13 Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean, the Ministry of Defence says.

RFA Fort Victoria and a US Navy vessel intercepted the pirates' boat, which had refused to stop despite warning shots from a Royal Navy helicopter.

Royal Marines in speedboats approached the vessel and boarded it, capturing 13 pirates and seizing weapons.

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said the UK personnel, part of a Nato-led force, could be "proud" of the success.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said the suspected pirates had been placed on board RFA Fort Victoria "while investigations continue to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to prosecute".

Mr Hammond said: "The Royal Navy and Royal Marines are playing a crucial role in securing and protecting international sea lanes that are vital to global trade.

He added: "This operation off the coast of Somalia is a clear demonstration of Britain's ability to tackle piracy that threatens our interests."

RFA Fort Victoria alongside pirate dhow The dhow, seen in the foreground, was identified as a known pirated vessel by the British crew

Capt Gerry Northwood leads the counter-piracy operation on RFA [Royal Fleet Auxiliary] Fort Victoria, which is based at Southampton.

He said: "This was a well-executed operation by Nato forces to locate a known Somali pirate group that was operating in international shipping lanes of the Indian Ocean.

"An effective boarding was safely executed by the Royal Marine boarding team based in RFA Fort Victoria and this has safely neutralised the effect of the pirate mothership.

"This firm and positive action will also send a clear message to other Somali pirates that we will not tolerate their attacks on international shipping."

The lack of an effective central government in Somalia means the men cannot be sent back there for trial. Dr Douglas Guilfoyle, a senior lecturer in law at University College London, said the Royal Navy would be looking for one of the states in the region to take on the prosecution of the alleged pirates.

"Those states will be asking what kind of evidence package the Royal Navy can turn over," he said.

"Kenya did initially make a sort of open ended commitment to taking piracy cases, then felt that once it had a 119 suspects in its criminal justice system, that was about what it could cope with. The Seychelles has taken about 10 cases and there are other states in the region that are looking at taking more."

Last year, the Prime Minister David Cameron announced a conference on the piracy problem would take place in London in February 2012.

A month earlier, Mr Cameron said ships sailing under a British flag would be able to carry armed guards to protect them from pirates in future.

Dawn operation

This latest operation was carried out around dawn on Friday.

Capt Shaun Jones RFA, commanding officer on RFA Fort Victoria, said: "To manoeuvre such a large ship at speed in close vicinity of a nimble dhow takes extreme concentration and skill; my team were never found wanting."

Capt James Sladden, who commanded the Royal Marines boarding party, added: "The moment of going on board the dhow was tense as we knew there were pirates on board who had refused to stop despite our warning shots.

"Through our weapon sights we could see there were about 13 pirates, mostly gathered in the area of the bridge. We quickly boarded and secured the vessel before mustering the pirates on the bow."

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