Onboard with an armed security team

By Frank Gardner
BBC security correspondent, on board the MT Sea Legend

Nato navies operating off the coast of Somalia have warned of a recent increase in maritime piracy. I decided to experience first-hand what seafarers go through.

I joined them not on a warship – which pirates avoid – but on a merchant tanker, the 112,000-tonne MT Sea Legend, carrying 90,000 tonnes of gas oil from the Gulf of Oman, through the Gulf of Aden between Yemen and Somalia, past the Bab al-Mandab Strait and up the Red Sea to Suez.

It is a 2,628-mile, eight-day voyage that sailors call “the route of fear”.

Several ships have been approached and attacked in the past few days. More than 100 sailors are still being held to ransom on the Somali coast.

Yet close to 20,000 ships sail through the critical choke point at the bottom of the Red Sea every year, carrying vital trade.

The ship I joined is one of an increasing number using armed security teams onboard, this one provided by the Dorset-based company Neptune Maritime Security.

Within 24 hours of leaving port in Oman they have set up a sentry roster, ordered extra coils of razor wire to be strung out along the deck, and test-fired their high-powered rifles from the balconies next to the bridge.

Mark Eassom, a former Royal Marines sergeant-major, is the team leader.

He says oncoming pirate boats, called skiffs, can come in incredibly fast but that his team has a system of graduated response.

“Once we’ve gone through all the other escalation methods and we’ve deemed that weapons is our final choice we’ll fire several warning shots near to the skiffs but not endangering them at all.

“The use of lethal force is an extreme and very last resort.”

Click here to continue to full story.

This article is courtesy of the BBC.

There is also a video report from onboard available here.

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