Cdre Bekkering - Stronger together


Cdre Bekkering alongside rescued crew members of dhow 

1 July 2012
It started with a call from the Omani maritime command. A dhow had gone missing, possibly hijacked. A few days later an Australian maritime patrol aircraft reports a dhow that could well be the missing one. Again a few days later, a Maltese flagged merchant ship with a Turkish crew comes under attack from a dhow. The vessel protection detachment keeps the dhow at a distance and the ship's mate manages to take some pictures. It bares a striking resemblance with the pictures earlier received from the aircraft and fits the description of the missing Omani dhow.

As NATO Task Force commander, I confer with my French colleague from the EU and my South Korean colleague from the Coalition Forces. One is an incident, two is a trend, but three is an event. I meet with my team, an international staff from the UK, Spain, Denmark, Belgium, Poland and the U.S. Verifying the validity of the information and considering if it is enough, I decide to dispatch the Netherlands frigate Evertsen to intercept the dhow. During her search, Evertsen is joined by a Japanese maritime patrol aircraft. On the international counter piracy chatbox we communicate with the Omani authorities to see if additional information is available.

Just before sunset, the Lynx-helicopter of Evertsen detects the dhow as she enters Yemeni territorial waters and proceeds along the coast, apparently seeking shelter from the monsoon and possibly a suitable location to continue towards Somalia. As the sea state improves, the dhow starts to cross the Gulf of Aden, probably unaware of the presence of Evertsen. On the warship everything is readied and at first daylight her boarding team jumps upon the unexpecting dhow. Quickly, Somali suspected pirates are apprehended and the Indian and Bengali crew freed. During the action, passing Russian and Chinese naval ships are informed, so they can safely continue with their convoys.

Ministries of Defence and Foreign Affairs as well as the prosecution offices in a number of countries quickly take it upon themselves to investigate follow-on actions with the aim to bring the pirates to justice. Within two days, Oman and the Netherlands decide that prosecution can and will take place in Oman. Evertsen transfers the suspected pirates to the Omani naval ship Al Mu'azzar.

The whole action happened in an area covering some 600 by 250 nautical miles, bordered by two countries that are struggling to regain the rule of law, in one of the world's busiest shipping lanes. In landlubber terms, Evertsen started her search for the dhow in Amsterdam, heading for the expected location of the dhow around Paris, changed direction based on new information, finally locating the dhow in Frankfurt and boarded it in Köln—all within two days.

This quick sketch of the disruption of just one pirated dhow, demonstrates the wide commitment, not just from one organisation or a few countries, but indeed the international community as a whole. An effort that is not limited to the military, but includes diplomats, prosecutors, the shipping community and international shipping organisations. It also shows the vast area in which the problem of piracy manifests itself. It demonstrates furthermore, that the counter piracy effort has matured, with a single dhow found in a vast area after an intensive but relatively short search. At the same time, it also shows that piracy still constitutes a clear and present danger to the shipping industry, which connects the World's resources, factories and markets.

So many parties are involved; many stakeholders sit around the maritime table—stronger together. Partnership and cooperation is the key to success in the counter piracy effort. It can therefore not be a coincidence that the theme of the Navy Days in the Netherlands this year, on the 7th and 8th of July, carries the same name.