Friday, November 16, 2012
by Oscar Nkala
The Russian Navy's Pacific Fleet has dispatched a fresh squadron of three vessels to combat piracy off the East African coast.
The squadron comprises destroyer Marshall Shaposhnikov, the oil tanker Irkut and the rescue tug Alatau. The flotilla sailed out of the Pacific Fleet naval base in Vladivostok on November 2, heading for the Arabian Sea, reports The Voice of Russia.
While en-route to the Gulf of Aden the vessels will hold an exercise with the Indian Navy and call at its port of Mumbai. The vessels will also visit Djibouti as they join an international naval anti-piracy force which comprises vessels from the European Union, the United States, China, India, Iran and South Korea.
After a three-month deployment, the squadron will return to Vladivostok in a voyage that will include stop-overs in naval bases in the Seychelles, Thailand and South Korea. The flotilla also becomes the Russian Navy's eighth naval patrol squadron to be deployed with the international forces in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean since anti-piracy and maritime operations began three years ago.
It also marks a second coming to East African waters for the Marshall Shaposhnikov (BPK 543), a large Udaloy Class submarine destroyer which remains one of the flagship vessels of the Russian Navy Pacific Fleet despite the 28 years it has spent on active service.
While deployed on anti-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean in 2010, navy commandos from the Marshall Shaposhnikov carried out a number of spectacular operations, including the rescue on May 10 of the ship and crew of the supertanker MV Moscow University which had been hijacked by Somali pirates and held on Socotra Island in the Indian Ocean five days earlier.
Since deploying on international maritime security operations three years ago, the Russian Navy has escorted more than 130 commercial and aid ships through the Red Sea and other pirate-infested shipping lanes off Africa.
Whilst the Pacific Fleet squadron is on the way to Africa, a Black Sea Fleet task unit is currently finishing pre-deployment preparations. The Russian Defence Ministry said the missile cruiser Moskva and landing ship Saratov were presently training in the Aegean Sea while the patrol vessel Smetlivy and tugboat MB-304 will join the group following the Russian-Italian naval exercise Ionex 2012. The task unit will soon be joined by the landing ship Novocherkassk.
The international naval flotilla off the East African coast has stepped up pre-emptive action against pirates, including strikes on bases on the Somali coast. Shipping firms are increasingly deploying armed guards and other measures such as heightened watches and razor wire to improve security on vessels. These measures have led to a dramatic drop in piracy, but the problem remains.
According to the International Maritime Bureau, as of October 27, 252 incidences of piracy and armed robbery at sea have been recorded around the world this year, including 26 hijackings. Somali pirates have been responsible for 71 of these incidents and 13 hijackings, in which 212 hostages were taken. They are currently holding nine vessels and 154 hostages.