Navy ships return from Somalia mission marred by failure to free Thai hostages

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Two Sattahip-based naval vessels made a muted return to Thailand after a 137-day mission to Somalia marred by the failure to rescue 27 Thai fishermen taken hostage Christmas Eve.

Without much fanfare, the HTMS Pattani and HTMS Similan arrived at Juksamet Port Jan. 20, met by Royal Thai Navy officials, families and the realization the much-ballyhooed mission was only a partial success.

Officers and crew members disembark HTMS Similan at Juksamet port following a four month mission at sea to protect Thai merchant vessels against piracy.Officers and crew members disembark HTMS Similan at Juksamet port following a four month mission at sea to protect Thai merchant vessels against piracy.

The ships left for the Gulf of Aden Sept. 10 for what was originally scheduled to be a 98-day mission. The Pattani joined the 29-nation international patrol while the Similan was tasked with escorting and protecting Thai cargo and fishing vessels.

Royal Thai Navy Commander Adm. Kamthon Phumhiran called the mission a successful test of the service’s ability to monitor ships and operations in real-time over long distances.

During the nearly fourth months, the vessels helped to protect 1,703 cargo ships, participated in 12 convoys to guard 61 ships – five of them Thai;, provided escort to a Sudan-based armaments vessel and provided emergency medical treatment to vessels in distress.

The high point of the mission, however, was the dramatic rescue of 23 crew members of a Thai fishing boat hijacked by Somali pirates off the coast of Yemen Nov. 3. The Similan plucked seven Thais, 15 Cambodians and one Yemeni police officer out of the sea 15 miles off the Yemen coast Nov. 7 and transported them to a hospital in Oman.

The early successes, however, were dampened by the recent failure to free 27 Thai fishing boat crewmembers hijacked and held hostage since Dec. 24. Media reports indicated the company that owned the ship refused Navy help and opted to negotiate and pay a ransom to free its boat and crew.

The Thai naval vessels could follow the hijacked ship, but not get close. And it had to break off pursuit once the vessel entered Somali waters. A month later, the crew remains in captivity.

Likewise, 77 Thais abducted in April also remain hostages of Somali pirates after their three ships were hijacked. Ironically, those fishing boats, Prantalay 11, 12 and 14, have become “motherships” for the pirates, equipped with enough equipment to run three piracy crews each, complete with lightweight skiffs and ladders to scale the hulls of larger ships.

Nonetheless, Navy officials still called the mission a proud achievement for Thailand, as it provided service to Thai citizens in several foreign countries and gave the military a chance to show the flag abroad, making expatriate citizens proud.

Above and below: Despite mixed fortunes at sea, the crew of the two vessels were guaranteed a warm welcome home from loved ones.Above and below: Despite mixed fortunes at sea, the crew of the two vessels were guaranteed a warm welcome home from loved ones.

Above and below: Despite mixed fortunes at sea, the crew of the two vessels were guaranteed a warm welcome home from loved ones.