EU naval force frees pirates in UAE ship attack

Legal experts and the shipping community are divided over ships employing armed security guards on board. (AFP)

The European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) has freed six members, suspected to have links to the pirate group which attacked the UAE-based ship, for lack of evidence.

The spokesperson of EU NAVFOR John Harbour yesterday told Emirates Business that they had no other option but to release the arrested men after the captain of MV Almezaan said he could not identify the six.

Private security guards, employed by MV Almezaan, last Tuesday had shot and killed a Somali pirate during an attack off the coast of East Africa in the first such killing by armed contractors.

In a telephone conversation from Scotland, Harbour yesterday said EU Navfor, however, continues to concur with the International Maritime Organisation recommendation of not having full-scale employment of security firms on ships.

"But at the same time, we acknowledge that certain vulnerable vessels may wish to do this and we would not criticise them because it is up to the company and the master of the shipping vessel to do so," he said.

When asked if any legal action could be taken against the security agency involved in the killing of the pirate, he said: "That is not the concern of the EU NAVFOR. The EU NAVFOR is like the policemen of the sea. We arrest the pirates and then we gather evidence. It also includes the statements of the witnesses. If the captain of the ship and other crew members say they cannot identify the arrested men as those responsible for the attack or of being pirates, we have no other option but to free them."

Currently there are three task forces deployed off the coast of Somalia – The European Union's task force, known as Operation Atalanta; Nato's task force – Operation Allied Protector; and the US -led task force Combined Task Force 151 (CTF 151). In addition to these, several nations have deployed vessels in independent efforts. These include India, China, Russia, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore.

Legal experts and the shipping community are divided over ships employing armed security guards on board.

Shipping companies have started the practice despite a warning from maritime organisations that privately armed security could increase the risk of an escalation, resulting in disproportionate damage to both the cargo and the crew.

Capt Farhad Patel, Assistant General Manager of Sharaf Shipping had earlier said the trend towards putting private armed security staff on ships crossing the Gulf of Eden and Somalia is gaining ground with an increase in piracy incidents.

"Every owner is now thinking about the option. However, it all depends on the flag country's decision. While some are strictly against allowing shipping companies to hire private security guards, others are just closing their eyes," said Patel.

Permission is not being given officially. However, several foreign shipping firms in the UAE have already started to equip their vessels with private security guards.

Separately, pirates attacked a Turkish cargo ship off the coast of Nigeria, injuring three crew members, said Reuters quoting Turkey's state-run news agency Anatolian.

Eight to 10 pirates with automatic weapons boarded the Ozay 5 late on Thursday. They robbed the crew of money and cellphones but fled after the ship began making distress calls.


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