Hawks to take on sea pirates
The South African police are set to play a greater role in the international fight against piracy after officers from the Hawks underwent an intensive maritime training programme alongside members of the elite US Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) yesterday.
The training, in conjunction with the University of South Africa’s (Unisa) criminology department, means that the KwaZulu-Natal Hawks are now only the second investigative body – the other being the NCIS – to have a team of investigators ready at a moment’s notice to process maritime crime scenes.
They would be called on more frequently to investigate ships captured but later released by pirates off the east coast of Africa, said the head of the KZN Hawks, Major-General Johan Booysen.
Hawks’ crime scene investigators and police K9 and water units joined the SA National Defence Force’s 15 Squadron and a team from the NCIS yesterday, as they conducted a training exercise at the Richards Bay Harbour, where they acted out realistic scenarios.
The team, which included a sniffer dog, practised hoists from a police boat on to an Oryx helicopter and then over to a cargo ship where they took DNA samples, fingerprints and other evidence. This was after two days of intense training on maritime protocol and procedure from piracy expert, Professor Henri Fouché of Unisa, who has written several papers on the issue.
“The only way we are going to stop piracy is by arresting them (pirates), tying them to evidence, prosecuting them and sending them to jail,” Fouché said.
“One of the biggest reasons why pirates are not being prosecuted is the lack of evidence. And to collect evidence, you need specialised teams to go aboard the vessel, and then protect the evidence. This is why this training is so important.”
Fouché said the KZN Hawks, with their strong investigative skills, were a natural ally to the international community in combating piracy, as many ships, after being released by pirates, often sailed south towards Durban.
He said that pirates who were linked to a crime scene could be tried in the flag country of the ship.
Most ship hijackings occur around the Horn of Africa by heavily armed pirates who ambush vessels making their way to or from Europe.
The pirates, after subduing the crew, sail the ships to a port in Somalia where they are held while huge ransoms are negotiated for the vessels’ release.
International corporations often give in to the pirates’ demands as their vessels are laden with precious commodities such as oil.
It is envisioned that after the vessels are released, the Hawks will be sent in to collect evidence on behalf of Interpol, which is compiling a database on pirates, Fouché said.
Last year, the KZN Hawks team was called in to help Interpol investigate the Greek oil tanker, Irene SL – laden with $200 million worth of crude oil – which was hijacked by Somali pirates.
It was the first time a ship, which had been snatched by pirates, was considered a crime scene and was probed by investigators.
Members of the Hawks boarded the vessel, which had anchored five nautical miles (about 9.2km) from Durban on April 20 last year and spent 12 hours processing it.
Booysen said his team found AK47 rounds, a significant amount of DNA, and were able to extract several latent fingerprints.
“Back then we were going in blind. We had never done that before so it was all new to us,” Booysen said yesterday.
“At least now with the training, the guys will be more prepared and ready to assist Interpol with international duties.”
Fouché said that while a considerable amount of resources had been thrown at fighting pirates, not much was being done internationally to bring them to book.
“At the moment we have the coalition naval forces, Nato vessels and even individual countries patrolling the Horn of Africa. So at any given time you have between 10 and 20 vessels in the area,” he said.
“They are interdicting the pirates, but according to statistics nine out of every 10 pirates captured since 2010 were released without being prosecuted.”
The NCIS investigators declined to comment as they were not authorised to speak to the media.
Meanwhile, figures released this week by the International Maritime Bureau’s global piracy report show that 177 pirate attacks had occurred in the first six months of 2012.
The figure is down compared to the corresponding period last year, when 266 incidents occurred.
The report showed that 20 vessels were hijacked worldwide, with a total number of 334 crew members taken hostage.
There were a further 80 vessels boarded, 25 fired upon and 52 reported attempted attacks.
At least four crew members were killed.
According to the report, the decrease in the overall number was primarily due to a decline in incidents of Somali piracy activity, which dropped from 163 in the first six months of 2011 to 69 this year. Somali pirates also hijacked fewer vessels, down from 21 to 13.
“Nonetheless, Somali piracy continues to remain a serious threat,” the report said.
Source: Daily News