A suspected attack on the VLCC Tateyama in the Strait of Hormuz provided a chance for Combined Maritime Forces anti-piracy task force, CTF 151 to showcase their well co-ordinated anti-piracy response. Combined Maritime Forces, a multi-national naval partnership, said that at 1218 hours local time on 28 February, lookouts on Tateyama, which is operated by a joint venture between Japan’s NYK Line and Thailand’s Thai Oil, saw two small motor-powered skiffs carrying several men behaving oddly around a mile away. Suddenly accelerating, the skiffs changed direction and headed straight towards the ship, which was 60 nautical miles off the Oman coast.
The lookouts became suspicious as the ship’s position was in a piracy hotspot and the crew wondered if the high-speed manoeuvres meant these were pirates, preparing to make an attack. Sensing the ship’s vulnerability due to not having armed guards on board, the master broadcast a distress message to other nearby vessels and the Omani Coastguard requesting immediate assistance. This set in motion a coordinated response between naval ships and aircraft from several nations which ultimately ascertained that the piracy alarm was not an attack. Yet the firm actions reassured the tanker and reaffirmed the message to would-be pirates that any attempts at illegal activity would receive a swift reaction from international naval forces. As the skiffs continued to close the distance between themselves and the merchant ship, Tateyama’s master remained concerned they were possibly trying to intercept the tanker. He put his crew’s anti-piracy training into practice by initiating a whole-ship lock-down, increasing vessel speed to maximum, starting fire pumps and overflowing the ballast tanks to make any potential boarding as difficult as possible.
Tateyama’s 27 crew were mustered and accounted for and waited for the response from local maritime authorities. Meanwhile, having picked up news from the UK Maritime Trade Organisation in Dubai of the Tateyama’s distress signal, CTF 151 scrambled Australian frigate HMAS Darwin to close the Tateyama’s location to assess the situation and combat any attack that was in the offing. A Pakistan Navy maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) also quickly reached the scene and established communications with the Tateyama’s Master. Shortly afterwards, a United States MPA joined the coordinated action to support the merchant vessel, making contact on the emergency VHF channel 16. One of the skiffs stopped in the water and the other shortly slowed to a speed of around 12.5 knots. Any threat to the Tateyama’s security now seemed unlikely. Once the maritime activity entered Oman territorial waters, the Oman Coast Guard authorities efficiently took control of the situation and managed to stop the skiffs and question the men on board. The men were subsequently released. The MV Tateyama’s Master was able to stand down his alerted crew and the tanker continued safely on its passage to the port of Fujairah. Commodore Ali Abbas, Commander of CTF 151, said: “Having only taken command of CTF 151 a few days ago, it is heartening to see such a well co-ordinated action by CTF 151 in co-operation with other agencies, demonstrating CMF’s resolve to suppress piracy activity.”
Commodore Keith Blount OBE, Royal Navy, Deputy Commander Combined Maritime Forces, said: “This was one of the most co-ordinated pieces of piracy-alert activity I have seen. The quick and targeted response crossed task force and national boundaries with aligned common purpose – we all want to drive piracy from our seas. It was a job well done.” Hemant Pathania, MD of NYK Shipmanagement, which manages Tateyama, told IHS Maritime that there is no confirmation if the men in the skiffs were pirates. He said: “There were two skiffs, 0.7-1 nautical mile away. They didn’t try to board the ship as the crew took many precautions. Our crew could not see who the men were, except they were behaving suspiciously around the ship. But it was tense for us as we didn’t know why they were near the ship.”(source: IHS Maritime 360)