A life on the piratical waves

A New Zealand naval commander keeping our seas safe from pirates tell what the job involves – and why the crew watched the Captain Philips movie before deploying . tags:

Dubai, UAE, December 19, 2013:Seen here is Pirate hunting seaman, Captain Shane Arndell. Captain Arndell was photographed aboard his ship prior to a well deserved party with his 180 person crew. The ship is currently docked inside Port Zayed. Lee Hoagland/The National
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Royal New Zealand Commander Shane Arndell is in charge of HMNZS Te Mana. The frigate, and its crew of 182 people, is currently deployed in regional waters conducting anti-piracy operations. After patrolling off the Somali coast, the ship docked in Abu Dhabi yesterday and Commander Arndell spoke about how the mission is part of a long-term commitment to contribute to stability and protect trade in the region.

How long have you been in command of the ship?

I took command last December. We left New Zealand in August. We spent three months off the east coast of Australia getting ourselves all trained up across the range of warfare skills that we need. Then we headed up to Darwin to do a specific workout for counter piracy operations.

What do you do on a counter piracy deployment?

A lot of it is surveillance. We have been sitting in the Somali Basin and providing a presence there to stop any potential pirate action groups wanting to leave the beach and go out and hijack ships.

We have a mission brief about 6pm. We get the helicopter the airborne at 7 in the morning – she’ll go and do some coastal surveillance, go around the beach so that pirates can see there must be a warship because there is a helicopter around. She will identify some areas we want to focus on and we’ll take the ship up to those areas. We’ll go and visit some fishermen, pass out some pamphlets saying, “Coalition forces are here, have you seen any piracy?” In the main, they have all come back saying, “It’s great to see a warship out here. We feel safer therefore we can go out and start fishing again.” In the evening the helicopter will get airborne and do another search to see if there’s been any change in the area we’ve been surveying.

What happens if you do encounter pirates?

If we have the legal mandate or I have the rule of engagement, I can go ahead and start boarding [the suspicious vessel]. I need to report [that] to my commander who is in Bahrain. If we come across pirates, then the whole thing starts cascading upwards and we start reporting back to New Zealand. Nine times out of 10, if we come across a pirate vessel, they throw their weapons in the water, they throw all the stuff that’s associated with the piracy in the water and they put their hands up because they see this great big warship coming towards them. Resistance is very minimal.

Piracy incidents off Somali have declined this year. What accounts for that?

The biggest reason the level of activity has died is because the coalition has been there. This year we’ve only had one act of piracy and a couple of false alarms that have been stopped due to ships being down there. [Pirates have] actually moved up north to the Gulf of Aden – they are trying to take ships up there because they see it as easier trade.

Why did you decide to come to Abu Dhabi?

We are here as a piece of New Zealand, to sell New Zealand and to build our relationship with the UAE. Ninety-five per cent by volume of New Zealand’s trade goes by sea, so as an international citizen and as a nation that relies on trade from the sea we need to play our part. The Gulf of Aden and this part of the world is a vital link for our trade with the rest of the world so we need to be seen to be out here and contributing and saying, “Look we are an international citizen, we believe in the rule of law, and if you need a hand we are going to be here.”

What do you think of the Captain Phillips movie?

I like to think Captain Phillips was for us a pre-deployment training movie. We watched [it] in Darwin before we went. It gave a realistic expectation to the sailors of what kind of vessels we would be approaching and what Somali pirates actually look like. They all have this Jack Sparrow [a fictional character in the Pirates of the Caribbean film series] sort of view of what a pirate is going to look like. But when they see it’s a skinny Somali fisherman who’s got no money and what he is trying to do is eke out an existence – they got a [different] perception.

Where are you going from here?

We’ve got another patrol for 21 days back in the Somali basin and then we are off to India for another break. Then we’ve got another patrol and we’ll start heading home on February 19 or thereabouts. That will take three weeks.