Hijackers take on Royal Marines

Three pirates were killed in a skirmish with the Royal Navy yesterday after they opened fire on two RN assault craft from the frigate HMSCumberland.

The incident, which took place off the Somalian coast, is believed to be the first time the Navy has fired shots in anger since the Falklands war. The pirates’ dhow had been identified as having been involved in an earlier hijack attempt on a Danish merchant vessel, MVPowerful.

HMS Cumberland launched two rigid raider craft to circle the dhow, in an attempt to encourage it to stop. The pirates opened fire, and the crews, made up of Royal Marines, returned fire in self defence.

A spokesman for the MOD explained, “The dhow crew subsequently surrendered and a compliant boarding followed. It was then clear that two personnel, believed to be pirates, had been shot and killed.”

HMS Cumberland is in the area as part of the British contribution to a NATO mission providing security to shipping transiting the Gulf of Aden, where a large number of ships have been taken hostage over the past year. More than a dozen are believed to have been seized in the past month alone.

This incident is nothing new for the navy: in the past it has done battle with Barbary coast pirates, prompted by the loss of 466 merchant ships to pirates from 1609 to 1616, and in the 19th century, British warships did their best to eradicate it as they policed the world’s oceans. The death penalty for piracy on the high seas remained on the statute books until 1998.

Photo: MOD