Mar 2, 2007

Melaka Straits Training - Naga Emas

MELAKA STRAITS - After 600 years of terrorising seamen in the Straits of Melaka, pirates have finally met their match in the Royal Malaysian Navy's (RMN) Special Marine Forces (Paskal).

To show that it means business, Paskal held its first ever exercise codenamed "Naga Emas" in the Melaka Straits last Feb 21 and 22. Pirates have struck in the Melaka Straits since the Melaka Sultanate days mainly because the narrow waterway was used by some 30,000 ships a year and proved to be a lucrative ground for sea robbers.

Last year alone, 58 cases of pirate attacks were reported to the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Coordination Centre (MECC), while the Indonesian side recorded 95 cases. Among the victims were Japanese oil tanker MT Global Star which was hijacked for three months by pirates in February last year and Panama-registered MV Alondra Rainbow cargo ship which was seized by 15 pirates in November 1999 before Indian warship INS Prahar went to its rescue.

Before that, two ships from Thailand - Siam Xanxai and Marine Master - also fell prey to pirates in the Melaka Straits. The extent of the problem was evident when three Indonesian pirates arrested by marine police last Oct 12 admitted to committing 30 robberies in the straits - 19 on merchant vessels and 11 on fishing boats.

On the night of Feb 21, journalists were invited to observe the Naga Emas exercise on board the MISC-owned MV Bunga Teratai 2 container ship. As the reporters were attending a briefing by MV Bunga Teratai 2 skipper Kapt Abdul Aziz Yunus, seven masked men armed with Russian-made AK102 rifles burst into the briefing room. One of the intruders handed to Abdul Aziz a paper containing their demands.

Abdul Aziz announced over the intercom at the control centre to inform the crew and passengers that the ship had been seized and it would sail to Melaka Straits at 5am as demanded by the raiders. That marked the start of the Naga Emas exercise. MISC reported the incident to the relevant government agencies, and the RMN intelligence corps was directed to gather data on the hijacked ship which was then in Port Klang waters.

Command and logistics vessel KD Mahawangsa and warship KD Serampang were directed to await the emergence of MV Bunga Teratai 2 at the Staits of Melaka the following day. On the morning of Feb 22, on board KD Mahawangsa 30 Paskal commandos armed with MP5 machineguns were waiting to spring into action. Finally, Paskal commanding officer Kapt Nasaruddin Othman gave the order to storm MV Bunga Teratai 2 at 1.30pm, using helicopters and four assault boats travelling at 60 knots to intercept the ship.

When the four boats closed in on the stern of MV Bunga Teratai 2, the 10-storey tall ship was travelling at 10 knots. A Paskal-designed winch was used to lift the Paskal members from the boats onto the deck in a matter of five minutes even as the ship was moving.

The pirates were overpowered, with the last two being forced to surrender after the commandos stormed the navigation room they were guarding. Paskal commanding officer Kapt Nasaruddin Othman, the exercise coordinator, said the drill was meant to deter pirate activities and to test Paskal's tactical capabilities to storm hijacked ships. "We want to send a signal to the elements (pirates) concerned that RMN and Paskal are ever ready to be deployed for operations," he told a news conference on board KD Mahawangsa soon after the exercise ended.

He urged other shipping companies to allow RMN to carry out similar exercises on their ships as the experience gained would come in handy in actual crises. The exercise, which involved 390 personnel of RMN, MISC, the National Security Council and other agencies, met its objective of testing the capabilities of Paskal.

Following the exercise, Paskal has been put on standby round-the-clock to combat piracies, especially those involving local ships. Abdul Aziz told Bernama that most skippers have identified the Sunda Straits area (between West Jawa and Sumatra) as the most piracy-prone stretch.

Before becoming skipper of the MISC ship, Abdul Aziz himself had experienced a pirate attack in that waterway. "Fortunately, they (pirates) were not violent, and they only escaped with several electronic equipment from the ship," he said. As a precaution, he now switches on all lights on deck while sailing and berthing. "It's not a good practice of seamanship, but since others do it we follow to prevent people with bad intention from getting near the ship," he said. He said all doors were also locked and crewmen are prohibited from loitering on the deck at night. "So if there are people outside, we know they are intruders," he said. - Bernama

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