Dutch Navy Foils Attempted Hijack of Zim Ship

The second attempt in two weeks by Somali pirates to hijack a ship operated by Israeli shipping company Zim was foiled on Monday, this time by Dutch commandos.

Dutch special forces from the Dutch frigate Tromp rappelled down from a helicopter to free 15 crew members of the German ship MV Taipan, leased by Zim. They also captured 10 pirates. The Taipan is a container ship plying the Israel-South Africa route.

The ship was hijacked some 900 kilometers off the Somali coast earlier that day.

Two weeks ago, Israeli security guards on Zim's Africa Star fended off two boats of Somali pirates 550 kilometers off the coast on its route from Mombasa, Kenya, to Djibouti.

The pirates' boats approached the ship and opened fire but were driven off following a gun battle with the security guards. That was the second time the Africa Star had been attacked in a week.

Just two days before that attempt, a ship flying the Maltese flag was hijacked in the same area. The Turkish-owned MV Frigia was carrying Israeli cargo from Ashdod to Thailand. While no Israelis were on board the Frigia, it was carrying between 20,000 to 40,000 tons of potash for Israeli Chemicals - valued at some $11 million - when it was seized. Both Israel Chemicals and Zim are subsidiaries of the Ofer family's Israel Corporation. The pirates are still in control of the Frigia and its Turkish and Ukranian crew, and are negotiating a ransom.

Dutch naval captain Col. Hans Lodder, who recaptured the ship, said he had no time to waste on bureaucracy and sidestepped the European Union's anti-piracy task force, instead going to his own government for authorization to recapture the ship.

Lodder first ascertained that the freighter's crew had locked themselves in a bulletproof room. Then he launched his ship's Lynx helicopter with a team of six special forces marines.

With troops providing cover fire from the helicopter, the marines rappelled onto the deck of the Taipan ready for a gun battle. But they met no resistance. The 15-man crew was rescued, and 10 Somali pirates were captured.

"The pirates surrendered the moment they saw the marines," Lodder said in a telephone interview Tuesday from the Tromp. No one was hurt.

The successful rescue showed that, when swift decisions are needed, it can be quicker to work around the European Union's command.

The event marked the first time a Dutch ship involved in the EU mission had used force to recapture a hijacked ship. An EU spokesman could not immediately recall any incident when troops under EU command had boarded a seized ship under the threat of fire.

Lodder said he decided to seek permission from his own command for an "opposed boarding" - one where pirates may resist - rather than act under procedures laid down by Brussels.

"We just told my force commander we would operate under national command until after the boarding," Lodder said. "We kept everyone in the EU informed of everything we did."

A spokesman for the EU mission acknowledged the Dutch action avoided a delay and was legitimate.

"For speed of reaction, if you're on the spot ... (and) dispatched at haste to react to something immediately, the best thing to do is to go under national command," said Commander John Harbour, the U.K.-based spokesman for the European Union Naval Force Somalia.

Harbour also said the Taipan was sailing outside the zone covered by the EU mission when it was rescued. hundreds of kilometers from the Somali coast.

Bibi van Ginkel, a senior research fellow at the Clingendael think tank's Security and Conflict Program in the Netherlands, said opting out of a multinational mission was possible at sea because ship sail under their national flags anyway.

"It would be more difficult in land-based peacekeeping missions because the nations involved operate under the jurisdiction of the country they are deployed to," she said.

The 10 captured Somalis may be turned over to German or Dutch prosecutors for what would be a rare European piracy trial.

Pottengal Mukundan, director of the Commercial Crimes Services of the International Maritime Bureau in London, praised the Dutch rescu. "It is unusual and very welcome" that a navy recaptures a ship from pirates, he said. The Dutch rescue mission came a day after suspected Somali pirates hijacked a South Korean-operated supertanker carrying about $160 million of crude oil in the Indian Ocean. A South Korean navy destroyer caught up with the tanker on Tuesday and was sailing nearby yesterday.