On 29 January, Dutch warship HNLMS De Ruyter, part of NATO's counter-piracy operation Ocean Shield, freed the crew from merchant vessel New York Star after they had barricaded themselves into a “safe room,” (also known as a “citadel”) when their ship came under attack by pirates.
As the pirates climbed on board, the master of the New York Star was able to put out a mayday call, which was picked up by an Australian maritime patrol aircraft (MPA), which was on counter-piracy patrol in the area. The Australian aircraft broadcast a loud message to the pirates, announcing that warships were on the way to the scene.
The pirates were then seen leaving the New York Star, but they returned with tools to try and quickly gain control over the merchant vessel before the warships arrived. Using Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs) they tried, unsuccessfully, to blow their way in to the citadel.
HNLMS De Ruyter was patrolling the Arabian Sea when the distress call from the New York Star came in. Traveling at maximum speed, the warship covered almost 600 nautical miles in 22 hours with the Commander, Richard Keulen, remaining in email contact with the besieged ship’s master throughout.
As De Ruyter approached, a helicopter was sent ahead to over fly the merchant ship. The helicopter crew saw that the pirates had abandoned their attack and fled the scene. In a coordinated response with Russian Federation warship Admiral Vinogradov, and another Australian MPA, the Special Forces team from HNLMS De Ruyter boarded the New York Star and freed the relieved crew.
After a thorough search of the merchant vessel and confirmation that the crew were well, the Russian warship Admiral Vinogradov escorted the New York Star out of the area as HNLMS De Ruyter resumed her counter-piracy patrols in the Arabian Sea.
Speaking about the incident, Commodore Hijmans, the Commander of NATO’s counter-piracy task force praised the outcome. “I am very happy that NATO warship De Ruyter was able to assist the crew of New York Star,” he said. “It helped that the crew was able to react quickly, and having made good preparations, was able to keep in constant contact with De Ruyter. The coordination and cooperation between the different maritime aircraft and warships from the various task forces and nations also worked very effectively. The New York Star crew can now return to their families safe and I wish them well”.
NATO has contributed to the international counter-piracy effort off the Horn of Africa since December 2008. The mission has expanded from escorting UN and World Food Programme Shipping under Operation Allied Provider and protecting merchant traffic in the Gulf of Aden under Operation Allied Protector. In addition to these activities and as part of the latest mission, Operation Ocean Shield, NATO is working with other international bodies to help develop capacity of countries in the region to tackle piracy on their own.
NATO has announced its continuing commitment to counter-piracy by extending Operation Ocean Shield to December 2012.