HDMS Absalon has chalked up three Somali pirate mother ship take downs in the past 2 months. The Danish Navy “flexible support ship” has been on anti-piracy patrol since leaving Denmark on September 12, 2011 and arriving off the Horn of Africa in November. While having successfully released two pirated mother ships from captivity in January without casualties, this latest “success” left two hostages dead.
Having shadowed the pirated mother ship for several days, Absalon moved to intercept when the vessel headed out to sea from the Somali coast. After radio calls and warning shots failed to stop the pirate vessel, “a barrage of gunfire from the Absalon” was unleashed. When the vessel was subsequently boarded, two of eighteen hostages were found mortally wounded. Despite immediate care from the Danish doctor, one Iranian and one Pakistani hostage could not be revived.
Much like the Enrica Lexie incident of two weeks ago, there will certainly be a thorough investigation into these deaths. At this time, it is still unknown if the hostages were wounded by fire from the Absalon or by pirates. Looking back on the sailing vessel Quest massacre in February 2011, it is unclear why the Danish navy put this much pressure on heavily armed pirates with hostages. In that incident, pirates fearing military action against them executed their hostages.
Absalon and the EUNAVFOR contingent have had success recently with freeing mother ships. Unfortunately, they may have overlooked the fact that there are many different Somali pirate groups operating – some of whom may be more committed or prone to violence than others.
Rules of Engagement (ROE) are created to protect lives on both sides of the weapon. Warning and disabling shots may have been in the Danes Escalation of Force (EOF) protocol, but due consideration should have been taken on the immediate effect on the hostages and the psychological effect on the pirates. The psychological effect cannot be underestimated as it might cause either surrender or the irrational actions seen on the Quest. Unless a hostage rescue operation was underway, a la Samho Jewelry, firing on the hijacked mother ship might have many unintended consequences.
Whether these hostages were killed by fire from the Absalon or by the pirates, the ROE failed to protect innocent lives.