Pirate shot dead by private security contractors off Somalia
A suspected Somali pirate has been shot dead by private security guards in an attack on a cargo ship off the coast of East Africa in what is believed to be the first such killing by armed contractors.
A spokesman for the EU Naval Force (NavFor) said the suspect was found dead by a team from an EU warship responding to a distress call from the cargo ship.
The death comes amid fears that increasingly aggressive pirates and the growing use of armed private security contractors onboard vessels could fuel increased violence on the high seas. The handling of the case may have legal implications beyond the individuals involved in Tuesday's shooting.
The guards were onboard the MV Almezaan when a pirate group approached it twice, said Cmdr John Harbour, the NavFor spokesman. During the second approach on the Panamanian-flagged cargo ship which is United Arab Emirates owned, there was an exchange of fire between the guards and the pirates.
An EU Naval Force frigate was dispatched to the scene and launched a helicopter that located the pirates. Seven pirates were found, including one who had died from small calibre gunshot wounds, indicating he had been shot by the contractors, said Cmdr Harbour. The six remaining pirates were taken into custody.
Crews are becoming increasingly adept at repelling attacks by pirates in the dangerous waters of the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden. But pirates are becoming more aggressive in response, shooting bullets and rocket-propelled grenades at ships to try to intimidate captains into stopping.
Several organisations, including the International Maritime Bureau, have expressed fears that the use of armed security contractors could encourage pirates to be more violent when taking a ship. Sailors have been hurt or killed before but this generally happens by accident or through poor health. There has only been one known execution of a hostage despite dozens of pirate hijackings.
International navies have killed about a dozen pirates over the past year, said Harbour. Hundreds more are believed to have died at sea, either by drowning or through dehydration when their water and fuel runs out, said Alan Cole, who heads the UN Office on Drugs and Crime's anti-piracy initiative.
Pirate attacks have not declined despite patrols by dozens of warships off the Somali coast. The amount of ocean to patrol is too vast to protect every ship and pirates have responded to the increased naval presence by moving attacks farther out to sea.
Experts say piracy is just one symptom of the general collapse of law and order in the failed state of Somalia, which has not had a functioning government in 19 years. They say attacks on shipping will continue as long as there is no central government capable of taking on the well-armed and well-paid pirate gangs.