11 Oct 2011

UK forces free ship’s crew from Somali pirates

Royal Marines help release the crew of a ship hijacked by pirates off Somalia, reflecting a declining trend in the success rate for highjackings off the east coast of Africa.

The MV Montecristo, owned by the Italian company the D’Alesio Group, was hijacked on Monday. Reports from Somalia say the ship was just over 600 nautical miles off the coast of the African state.

The rescue operation is believed to have been carried out by members of a Nato anti-piracy task force force which is operational in the region.

A Ministry of Defence spokesperson told Channel 4 News: “10-15 Royal Marines were involved. The pirates are now in Nato custody. No special forces were involved.”

The crew, which had been hiding in a special protective citadel, were released unharmed.

The MV Montecristo berthed in Italy earlier in 2011 (Reuters)

Fewer successful hijackings

Just three years ago, if a ship or boat was targeted by a Somali pirate gang, the odds were that it would be captured. Of the 111 “incidents” (attempts at hijacking a vessel) in the region around the Horn of Africa and Gulf of Aden reported to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) 42 became successful hijackings.

That is a hit rate for the pirates of just under 40 per cent. In 2009 those figures had dropped to a success rate of just over 21 per cent with 49 hijackings, although the number of attacks had increased to 217.

The consensus among experts is that only the restoration of law and order on the mainland will bring peace to the seas off the Horn of Africa.

IMB figures up to 27 September this year show that there have been 24 hijackings from 194 incidents – a success rate for the pirates of just over 12 per cent.

However, around this time of year prevailing weather conditions in the region are favourable for pirates, so those numbers are almost certain to rise.


Currently three international task forces are operating in the area around the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, which is a Somali piracy hotspot. The number of attacks on ships has grown over the past decade, leading to urgent calls for action from the international community.

Although the consensus among experts is that nothing short of the restoration of law and order on the mainland will bring peace to the seas off the Horn of Africa, other measures have seen the number of kidnappings drop.

Despite this, though, the level of violence appears to have increased along with bigger ransoms.

Former captives also report being tortured. Methods used have reportedly included crew members being beaten or sometimes even forced to strip naked before being put into a deep-freeze for 30 minutes. Currently 277 hostages and 15 vessels are in the hands of Somali pirates.