A PIRATE mothership responsible for the hijacking of an Italian cargo carrier has been captured by the Royal Navy.
A Merlin helicopter and HMS Somerset fired shots across the bow of a fishing dhow which was being used by pirates to hijack vessels off the coast of Somalia – including the Montecristo, an Italian ship which was freed by the navy in a daring rescue mission last week.
After the success of the Montecristo raid, which captured 11 pirates, the Southsea-based captain serving in RFA Fort Victoria decided to hunt for the mothership where the pirates came from and freed 20 fishermen who were being held hostage inside the ship.
Captain Gerry Northwood told The News: ‘We had a pretty good idea that the mothership would either stay where he was and continue to hijack or head back for replenishments because he’d just lost 11 pirates and their weapons. We went down the coast as fast as we could to intercept his course into Somalia and it worked.’
Capt Northwood, who is onboard Fort Victoria as Nato’s head of counter-piracy, called in frigate HMS Somerset to help take the dhow.
He said: ‘Somerset came up the coast and we came towards each other to head him off.
‘We put our Merlin helicopter up in the morning and it spotted the dhow and identified it as a pirate vessel because it was towing a skiff that they use to board ships.’
After the dhow’s crew failed to respond to messages for them to surrender to the navy, Capt Northwood decided to open fire.
He said: ‘We fired warning shots from the helicopter and from the ship to coerce him into stopping but it still didn’t have the effect we desired. By this stage, we had the boarding teams ready to go in and get him, having given him enough notice and warning. It was clear we were prepared to use force and we were aiming to discourage him from firing on the boarding teams.’
Armed sailors and Royal Marines sped towards the dhow and met no resistance from the four pirates onboard, who were detained and handed over to the Italian authorities investigating the Montecristo hijacking.
Twenty Pakistani fishermen who had been held hostage aboard the dhow for four weeks were freed.
Capt Northwood said: ‘They were pretty relieved to be free. It was another good result.’