It is heartwarming to learn that in this hi-tech age of cell phones, BlackBerry's, iPhones, Satellite phones, Smartphones, text messages, twitters and tweets, lives can still be saved by the most basic of communication systems: A message in a bottle.
D'Alesio Group, Livorno, Italy
The last message received from the Ship Captain indicated that the Vessel has been attacked by a ship with 11 armed people. The Captain has immediately activated the security operating procedure to prevent the attack.
And so began another act of Somalian piracy off the "Horn of Africa."
On October 10, 2011, a group of Somali pirates armed with assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades, commandeered the 56,000 dwt M/V Montecristo off the Horn of Africa. The vessel is brand new, delivered in June to the D'Alesio Group of Livorno, Italy.
When the pirates boarded the 616-foot vessel, the 23-man crew repaired to a "safe" or "panic" room, located in the ships' engine room.
There, they were able to continue to navigate the vessel. But they quickly discovered that in their haste to get to the "safe room," they neglected to grab a hand-held radio!
For the next 24 hours, the sequestered crew crew, with no way to communicate with the outside world, listened in abject terror, as the pirates began tearing the vessel apart, trying to find them!
The next day, Tuesday, October 11th, the Montecristo was located by the USS De Wert, followed shortly by the RFA (Royal Fleet Auxiliary) Fort Victoria. The two ships are part of NATO's "Operation Ocean Shield," created to fight piracy in the seas off the Horn of Africa.
USS De Wert was first on the scene and assessed the situation. A Royal Marines boarding team aboard RFA Fort Victoria prepared to intervene, while a Royal Fleet Air Arm Lynx helicopter provided scene coverage, circling overhead.
The rescue party, including US Special Forces, boarded the Montecristo and captured the pirates without a shot being fired.
Shockingly, what saved the Montecristo crewmen was a message in a bottle. When the crew realized they had no radio, they scribbled a note, placed it in a bottle, tied a floating flasher to the bottle, and tossed in out a port hole, when the rescue forces approached them.
The flashing beacon was spotted by armed rescue forces.
What made the message in a bottle so important to their salvation was that the message let the boarding party know that the crew was safely sealed inside an armored area of the ship and the location of the armored room.
That information gave the green light to the Royal Navy and Marines, allowing them to mount a full rapid assault, without worrying about hostages or the safety of the crew.
The Royal Navy chief who led a daring rescue to free a hijacked ship from the clutches of pirates last night told how they got there “in the nick of time”.
When troops, including 40 marine commandos, boarded the vessel, they found the pirates armed with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns, had ripped apart steel doors and frames, wrecked cabins and blasted an RPG round through the bridge, in an attempt to find the hiding crew.
After spending 24 hours scouring the decks for the crew, the thugs were about to smash into the engine room where they were hiding. Capt Northwood said: “We basically just smothered the Montecristo. It was only then the 11 pirates realized the game was up and surrendered.
“They were close to breaking down the door to the engine room. This was a wild, unpredictable gang. None of us would want to have been captured.” (Ali Kefford, Daily Mirror, October 14, 2011)
On Friday, October 14, a dhow, believed to have been the "mother ship" from which the pirates were operating, was intercepted by vessels from "Ocean Shield," NATO's counter-piracy task force. British forces caught up with the dhow - a kind of Arab sailing vessel - some 200 miles (320km) off the coast of lawless Somalia.
In the October issue of Tanker Operator, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reports:
- Piracy has reached record levels with 352 attacks reported worldwide so far this year.
- Somali pirates were behind 56% of the attacks.
- Somali pirates are intensifying operations off their own coastline, but further afield - in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, particularly during the monsoon season.
- While Somali pirates initiated more attacks – 199 this year, up from 126 for the first nine months of 2010, only 24 vessels were hijacked, compared with 35 for the same period in 2010.