SEA BREEZES JUNE 2011 • VOL 85 • NO. 786
At the end of April I read of the death of Admiral of the Fleet Sir Henry Leach, the UK’s First Sea Lord at the time of the Falkland Islands crisis in 1982. Ministers at the time were advised that nothing much could be done if Argentina invaded the islands. Leach thought differently and was resolute in his belief that a task force could retake the Falklands; he helped convince the Defence Secretary and Prime Minister to pursue this course of action.
This was strong and bold leadership and how we need it now when we see the weak approach taken to counter the scourge of modern day piracy in the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean.
Merchant vessels are being attacked and hijacked with vessels and crews then held for ransom. It is conservatively estimated that circa 25-30 ships and 750-800 hostages are currently being held by Somali pirates, and the merchant vessels sailing these key trade routes seem at ever-increasing risk of attack.
A Radio 4 documentary on 12th April stated that a British Royal Navy vessel, HMS Cornwall, recently captured 17 heavily armed pirates who had hijacked a Yemeni fishing boat to use as a ‘mother ship’ from which to launch attacks on merchant vessels. Instead of being brought to justice these pirates were freed – allegedly after undergoing medical checks, being fed and provided with cigarettes. The Cornwall’s Captain no doubt acted on ‘orders from above’ but his vessel had to bear the brunt of ridicule, being renamed ‘HMS Nursemaid’ by one British newspaper.
This approach to piracy will only serve to encourage and escalate the problem; while the rewards are great, the deterrent seems minimal. While Royal Navy vessels patrolling these waters are heavily armed, merchant vessels – vital to world trade – are not.
The present action (or lack of it) by the Royal Navy would have our famous Admiral Lord Nelson turning in his grave. I recall attending a Trafalgar dinner in 2005 to celebrate the bicentenary of the famous battle, and being greatly amused by a cartoon by Ed McLachlan of how the battle might have appeared in 2005 given our now all powerful Health and Safety rules and regs. The cartoon is shown on the inside back cover.
Captain Hamish A C Ross (Editor)