According to the Japanese shipping company Nippon Yusen KK, the tanker Takayam was attacked early Monday morning by a small vessel off the northern Somali coast. The tanker began to lose fuel after being hit by a rocket, but it was still able to head towards Saudi Arabia.
The Takayama then sent the distress call: “Tanker attacked by armed boat and have been hit.” That was received by the German Navy frigate the Emden, which is patrolling the Gulf of Aden as part of the international anti-terror operation Enduring Freedom.
A spokesman for the German Navy confirmed the Emden changed course and launched a helicopter to intercept the pirates. He said the “mere threat was enough” to scare off the sea bandits and by the time the Emden’s chopper had arrived on the scene they had taken flight. None of the 23 members of the tanker’s crew – 16 Filipinos and seven Japanese – were injured in the attack.
Although it was the Emden’s presence that drove off the pirates, Yemeni state-run news agency SABA reported that it was Yemen’s coast guard that came to the Takayama’s rescue. “The coast guard’s forces were able to free a Japanese oil tanker from the clutches of Somali pirates some 90 nautical miles south of Al Mukalla,” SABA said.
The Gulf of Aden is home to some of the world’s most dangerous waters ever since the collapse of Somalia’s government in 1991. Somali pirates have been particularly active in recent weeks. After some pirates seized a French luxury yacht, which was later released for ransom, others now hold the Spanish fishing trawler Playa de Bakio and its crew.