HMAS Toowoomba has successfully thwarted a piracy attack by answering a call for assistance and conducting a boarding of a suspect vessel, 50 miles off the coast of Yemen in the Gulf of Aden.
Late on Sunday night Australian time (September 20), Toowoomba responded to an emergency radio call from the Merchant Vessel BBC Portugal, which reported sighting a boat carrying a group of armed individuals closing at high speed.
Under the command of Commander Ivan Ingham, Toowoomba immediately responded to the developing situation by moving to the scene at high speed to investigate and provide assistance.
“While Toowoomba closed in, a coalition P3 Orion maritime surveillance aircraft and a naval helicopter from another coalition warship joined the scene and provided surveillance of the suspect vessel.
The helicopter crew confirmed sighting weapons and also reported that the crew of the suspect vessel was seen disposing of several items including a ladder as the helicopter arrived at the scene,” Commander Ingham said.
On reaching the suspect vessel, Toowoomba launched her boarding team to investigate, search, disarm and seize. “The quick response by HMAS Toowoomba and the coalition helicopter ensured that the incident did not escalate into a direct attack on the merchant vessel. Further, the ship’s presence in very close proximity to the scene ensured that the persons suspected of planning acts of piracy were not able to resist the arrival of our boarding party and ensured that our teams were able to conduct a thorough and effective search,” Commander Ingham said.
The search of the suspect vessel revealed a cache of weapons including a Rocket Propelled Grenade launcher (RPG), six AK47 Assault Rifles, a G3 Assault Rifle and a large quantity of ammunition.
Routine questioning of the persons suspected of planning acts of piracy by Toowoomba’s boarding party confirmed that the occupants of the suspect vessel were from nearby Somalia. The occupants denied their intention to attack the merchant vessel and denied planning piracy activities.
Toowoomba’s personnel confirmed the suspect vessel had sufficient food, water and fuel to make the return journey back to Somalia,” Commander Ingham said.
HMAS Toowoomba is now continuing with counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden region.