Visit Royal Netherlands Navy (picture taken by Jeroen Vervliet)

‘Six suspected Somali pirates appeared before the Seychelles court for the offence of acts of piracy on the high seas on Tuesday this week. The suspected pirates arrived in the country on Saturday September 1 on board of Dutch Patrol Vessel HNLMS Rotterdam after the Seychelles government responded positively to holding their trial there. The suspected pirates were apprehended on the 13th of August on their way to Somalia on board of a cargo vessel, named Burhan Noor, which they had captured two days before in the Gulf of Aden. Burhan Noor Master and crew members who, along with their vessel, were captured and taken hostage, were all Pakistani’ (Maritime Security Asia, Tuesday September 4).

Even though the number of vessels being attacked by pirates today is decreasing, it still is very important to protect vessels on the high seas. In recent years, the UN Security Council has established a framework through its Resolutions 1851 (2008), 1897 (2009), 1950 (2010) and 1976 (2011) to combat piracy through international effort. Despite the important work of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS), there is no single international strategy or coordination available. As a result, there are many international players involved in combating piracy. Vessels can be protected against pirates on the high seas by countries, international organizations (for example operations carried out by the NATO and EU), and by private or military security teams (VPD’s). In the Netherlands it is the Royal Netherlands Navy, that is responsible for combating pirates and protecting vessels on the high seas.

The Peace Palace Library together with the Hague Academy of International Law, organized a visit to the Royal Netherlands Navy in the port of Den Helder that took place on Monday. An activity very well suited to the subject of this year’s Centre for Studies and Research: Criminal Acts at Sea.

The program started with two lectures. The first lecture was about the military operational aspects of the Dutch operation at the coast of Somalia. This lecture, by Commander Zelisse, was about the Dutch ships and the two main risk areas at sea: the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. Zelisse also told us about the Dutch Vessel Protection Detachments (VPD’s). A VPD is a military security team that operates independently and mainly protects commercial ships. According to Zellise, the first goal of the Dutch Navy is to combat piracy and protect ships going about their lawful business and securing freedom of the seas for all nations.

The second lecture was given by Lieutenant Commander Fink. Fink’s lecture was based on the legal aspects of the Dutch operations. Fink told us about the national law of piracy. In the Netherlands, piracy is codified in the Criminal Code (articles 381 – 385 Wetboek van Strafrecht). During his lecture it became clear that combating pirates and apprehending them is not an easy task, especially when it comes to self-defense and the different rules for piracy on an international and national level. In the end Fink told us that at the moment, there are two pending cases on piracy in the Netherlands of which one is very interesting. April 2011, the Dutch Navy took over an Iranian vessel and apprehended the pirates. During the trials some of the pirates were suspected of attempted murder of a Dutch marine.

After the two lectures, we visited HNLMS Johan de Witt (L801), a Rotterdam Class Landing Platform Dock (LPD) amphibious warfare ship. Rotterdam Class ships are equipped with a large helicopter deck for helicopter operations and a dock for large landing craft. The ships have a complete Class II hospital, including an operation theater and intensive care facilities. A surgical team can be stationed on board. Displacing 16,800 tons, HNLMS Johan de Witt was launched in February 2007 and is equipped with pod propulsion, as well as command and control facilities. Currently, HNLMS Rotterdam (L800), sister ship of the Johan de Witt, is now located at the coast of Somalia as part of NATO Operation Ocean Shield.

HNLMS Johan de Witt

We ended the educational part of the program with a dinner at the Marine Club.

Overall, it was a very interesting day and it gave us a good impression of what the Dutch Navy is doing in their fight against piracy. We learned that to fight piracy, agreements and coordination between countries, international organizations, private and military security teams are necessary. Piracy is still a threat to international trade and shipping and it is necessary that vessels like the Burhan Noor can be protected.

 By S. Brinkel and R. Steenhard

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