The European Union’s Naval Force (EUNAVFOR) has carried out an attack using helicopters on an informal pirate base near the central Somali coastal town of Hardhere, a known pirate haven.
The EUNAVFOR statement stressed the force, under Operation Atalanta, conducted the operation under UN Security Council Resolution 1859 and with the full support of the Transitional Federal Government in the capital, Mogadishu.
EUNAVFOR’s commander, Rear Admiral Duncan Potts said:
“We believe this action by the EU Naval Force will further increase the pressure on, and disrupt pirates’ efforts to get out to sea to attack merchant shipping and dhows. The local Somali people and fishermen – many of whom have suffered so much because of piracy in the region, can be reassured that our focus was on known pirate supplies and will remain so in the future.”
The attack reportedly destroyed nine boats and there were no casualties. AP quoted Bile Hussein, a pirate “commander”, who complained that speed boats, an arms dump and fuel were destroyed. He said:
"They destroyed our equipment to ashes. It was a key supplies centre for us. The fuel contributed to the flames and destruction. Nothing was spared."
Hussein added three of the speedboats were on standby for pirate actions.
Defenceweb reports the pirates have threatened hostages if the attack is repeated. A pirate calling himself only “Abdi” said after the attack:
“An unidentified helicopter destroyed five of our speedboats early in the morning. There were no casualties. We were setting off from the shore when the helicopter attacked us. We ran away without counter-attacking.”
He added, ominously:
“If we are attacked while with hostages, we shall take any necessary step to save ourselves, we may also kill the hostages if we miss other options to survive.”
Reaction to the attack was muted. However, the International Transport Workers' Federation, one of the biggest unions representing seafarers, said hitting the pirate bases was good. Union chairman David Heinde said:
“Limited though the effects of any one single operation can be, it sets a precedent for future actions. It is particularly welcome in a week that has seen increased use of weapons and violence by pirates.”
There are some 300 hostages in the hands of the pirates, who are making use of humanitarian laws and a fear on the part of governments to cause casualties among the hostages.
Defenceweb said the strike “marks a fundamental shift in combating piracy” by attacking their bases.
Based on a ruling in March, EUNAVFOR has a more effective mandate which allows it to strike "coastal territory and internal waters", which could include action by naval vessels or helicopters to attack boats moored on shore as well as fuel tanks or vehicles on land clearly linked to piracy.
The EU naval forces said the observed the shore carefully before launching the attack, so as to avoid loss of life. Operation Atalanta has been reinforced by the French helicopter assault ship FS Dixmude, which can carry 16 Eurocopter Tiger helicopters
When the policy was announced, officials said the new tactics could include using warships or their helicopters to target pirate boats moored along the shoreline, as well as land vehicles or fuel tanks used by the pirates.Rear Admiral Mann said:
"Today's action is ... in line with the new mandate. The EU will continue to remain active in this field."
This does raise the question of what the EU and the international community will do if pirates really kill hostages in retaliation for a future attack, in which their carefully-invested money is lost. The pirates carry out the whole operation as a business and are therefore quite sensitive to loss of materiel. Still, killing their hostages would lose them leverage against the hostage’s families and a massacre of hostages would surely cause a response, quite possibly even an invasion, the only thing that could really end the pirate scourge.
It appears governments in the EU are too frightened of public opinion to crush the pirates with the overwhelming force at their disposal.