Uneventful Somalia mission ends for Navy task force

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Two Royal Thai Navy ships that spent 140 days patrolling waters off Somalia returned to Sattahip last month after an error-free, and otherwise uneventful, mission.

The HTMS Similan and HTMS Narathiwat arrived at the Sattahip Naval Base Nov. 28 with much more pomp-and-pageantry than greeted the navy’s maligned first mission last winter. Unlike the muted January return of the Similan and HTMS Pattani, last month’s ceremony was attended by top military officials, including Chief of Defense Forces Thanasak Patimaprakorn.

HTMS Narathiwat arrives at the Sattahip Naval Base. HTMS Narathiwat arrives at the Sattahip Naval Base.

Thanasak said the mission would be remembered in history for the Thai navy’s cooperation with the international task force working to prevent Somali pirates from operating in the Gulf of Aden. The mission, he said, showed the world the Thai navy’s talent and potential and its willingness to participate on the international stage.

The Thai task force deployed 368 men, including a navy SEAL team and Bell helicopter group. While the Similan, a supply ship, and the Narathiwat, a battle cruiser, partook in plenty of patrol missions, they saw little real action.

Navy officials said the ships engaged in 830 ship escorts, including two Thai fishing boats. The only break from the routine patrols was one water rescue and just one encounter with actual pirates.

In August, the task force thwarted the attempted hijacking of the MT Namibia II 70 miles off the Yemeni coast. The Thai Bell helicopter with six crewmen was sent to the Liberian oil tanker, which was under attack with rocket-propelled grenades. The air forces drove off the pirates.

The ships just missed another interdiction two days earlier, when the MV Thor Harmony, a 194-meter bulk carrier operated by Bangkok’s Thoresen & Co., called for an escort after being frightened by Somali pirates attacking a nearby oil tanker.

Both navy crewmembers and their families were glad to be back in Sattahip. Master Sgt. 1st Class Chalerm Noikaew, 32, said the return was especially thrilling, as it was his first chance to see his son, who was born while he was away.

Spirits at the ceremony were generally higher across the board than in January, after the first Somali task force mission was deemed largely a failure.

That much-ballyhooed first mission managed a dramatic rescue of 23 crew members of a Thai fishing boat hijacked by Somali pirates off the coast of Yemen Nov. 3, but failed to free 27 Thai fishing boat crewmembers hijacked and held hostage since Christmas Eve 2009. They remained hostages until mid-April, three months after first task force returned home.