The role of Italian Marines in protecting merchant vessels from pirate attacks in the Indian Ocean came to the fore after an incident involving the death of two Indian fishermen in February. Piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off the Somali coast results in the loss of millions of dollars to world commerce. To prevent attacks, Nato has deployed an imposing fleet of warships, which constantly patrol the waters of the Gulf of Aden. Sergio Ramazzotti spent time with Italian Marines of the San Marco battalion on patrol duty and sent the following report.
The Italian Marines fighting piracy
By Sergio Ramazzotti, Parallelozero
On one side is the defence. The Bersagliere is an Italian Navy frigate, 113 metres long with a crew of 188 men and impressive firepower: a 25-tonne 127/54 cannon able to pulverise a target more than 100 kilometres away; two 40/70 cannons; two anti-aircraft and anti-ship defence systems with a total of 24 missiles; two heavy Browning machine guns; two 20/70 machine guns; four 7.62 calibre MG machine guns mounted on a helicopter; and everything is controlled from a state-of the-art electronic warfare centre.
On the other side is the threat: a dhow, a wooden cargo barge seen throughout the Indian Ocean and Arabian Gulf, built by hand in the same way as it would have been 1,000 years ago; hewn with an axe wielded by a Somali craftsman, and powered by a rusty diesel motor that came out of a truck. On board this dhow is a pair of skiffs or fast speedboats, grappling hooks attached to rope for boarding raids, some ancient AK-47 rifles, perhaps a Soviet-made RPG launcher, some meagre provisions, drinking water, and a crew composed of half a dozen men with very little left to lose. They are the pirates of the new millennium.
The pirates are the reason for Operation Ocean Shield, which was launched by Nato in August 2009 to counter piracy using Task Force 508: five warships (including the Bersagliere as from October 2010) and the Dutch submarine Zeeleeuw. The task force patrols the waters around the Horn of Africa, attempting to deal with………[access full report]