The ICC International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) received the distress call from the Chinese heavy lift vessel, Zhen Hua 4, which was broadcast immediately to all the naval commands in the area. The Zhen Hua 4 had been boarded by pirates who had not been able to enter the accommodation block. The crew of the vessel had locked themselves in having attempted to thwart the boarders through evasive manouvres and the use of water cannons.
The Combined Task Force requested a Malaysian Naval vessel, which was closest to the distress position to respond. The Malaysian warship scrambled a helicopter to the scene of the attack closely followed by the warship. When the Malaysian helicopter arrived there were six pirates on board the hijacked vessel and three on board a nearby skiff. Warning shots were fired at the skiff causing the pirates to panic and capsizing the skiff as a result . The attackers withdrew and fled on board another skiff that was alongside the Zhen Hua 4. The Malaysian Navy reported seeing a suspected pirate ‘mother ship’ near the vessel. Another Combined Task Force vessel supported the actions taken by the Malaysian Naval vessel.
ICC International Maritime Bureau (IMB) Director Pottengal Mukundan stated: “The IMB commends the efforts of the Malaysian Navy in helping to protect the Zhen Hua 4. The prompt and efficient response frustrated what could easily have been another case of a vessel being hijacked and the crew being held to ransom in the lawless waters off Somalia.”
The Royal Malaysian Navy has a number of vessels in the region as part of a national taskforce to protect Malaysian vessels from the threat of piracy in this area. The force also responds to requests for protection from vessels of other nationalities, providing an escort to convoys passing through this busy shipping lane.
So far this year, there has been 109 attacks on vessels off the coast of Somalia with 42 ships successfully hijacked. There are currently 14 vessels held for ransom in Somali waters, with a total of 268 crew held hostage. This number includes high-profile hijackings such as the Saudi supertanker, Sirius Star, and the Faina, carrying a cargo of ex-Soviet tanks.
The PRC works closely with various law enforcement agencies and navies and promptly passes on all reports to them for their action.
Mr Mukundan continued: “In this case, it was the reporting of the initial attack by the Master to the PRC which triggered the prompt response. We strongly urge all ships in the area to report any suspicious activity or vessels in this region to the PRC so that this information can be disseminated, not only to the relevant authorities but also to the many vessels that traverse this vital trade route on a daily basis.”
The IMB advises that Masters maintain strict 24-hour piracy watches and be especially wary of any approaching smaller craft. As far as possible, masters should not slow down or stop when fired upon by pirates.