The M/V St James Park, a UK flagged ship, was pirated Dec. 29 while transiting the Internationally Recognized Transit Corridor (IRTC) through the Gulf of Aden.
After receiving a signal from the M/V St James Park's Ship Security Alert System (SSAS), USS Chosin (CG 65), operating as the flagship to Combined Task Force 151 (CTF 151), was able to confirm via bridge-to-bridge radio that pirates had taken control of the vessel.
The M/V St James Park is the first vessel since July to be pirated in the IRTC. It has a crew of 26, including Filipinos, Russians, Georgians, Romanians, Bulgarians, Ukrainians, Polish, Indians and Turkish. There are no UK citizens on board.
Coalition warships constantly patrol the IRTC shipping lanes, watching for signs of pirates and listening for warning calls from vessels concerned about any approaching boat. The warships in the area were not able to intervene in this attack as there were no warnings of the impending attack on the M/V St James Park.
All ships transiting the IRTC are advised to follow a set of best practices issued by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO). These measures are designed to inform merchant vessels of proven tactics to help prevent unauthorized boardings. Best practices include proactive lookouts, the use of deck lighting, netting, razor wire, electrical fencing, fire hoses, and surveillance and detection equipment. The adoption of these tactics by ships, plus evasive maneuvering, is intended to delay the pirates in order to allow military vessels / helicopters time to successfully intervene.
Although the total number of attacks in the Gulf of Aden in 2009 remained almost the same as in 2008 (101 and 102 respectively), the percentage of successful attacks fell from 65% to 17%. On average five out of every six attacks were repelled in 2009, against two out of every six in 2008. Best practices are proven effective and work well if properly utilized by merchant vessels transiting the IRTC.
The reduction in successful pirate attacks can be attributed to both improved coordination and execution among military forces operating in the Gulf of Aden and merchant vessels adhering to industry best practices to counter pirate attacks. According to Commodore Tim Lowe, Deputy Commander of the Combined Maritime Forces (DCCMF), the three task forces operating in the Gulf of Aden, CTF 151 (CMF), CTF 465 (EU) and CTF 508 (NATO), position their forces to be able to respond to ships under attack in a timely manner. The fastest response by military forces occurs when merchant vessels under attack make a distress call via bridge-to-bridge radio.
When M/V St James Park was attacked, two warships were in a position to respond, but regrettably it appears that the M/V St James Park was unable to provide an alert via bridge-to-bridge radio. Coalition ships were not alerted to the attack until the SSAS signal was activated by the crew after the ship was pirated.
CTF 151 was established in early January 2009 and has a mandate to deter and disrupt piracy in the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. CTF 151 currently includes naval forces from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, South Korea and Turkey.