JAKARTA, - Indonesia has dispatched an elite military force to Somalia to rescue 20 Indonesian sailors who were hijacked by Somalian pirates together with their ship a month ago.
Despite a media blitz in Jakarta, the Indonesian government had actually to cancel the hard option as the Kopassus and the Korp Marinir units were en route to the site where MV Sinar Kudus was held by Somali pirates.
The force dispatched numbers to 401 personnel consisting of a combined unit of Kopassus and Korps Marinir (Marine Corps). The media had apparently been taken by surprise by what had been disclosed by Air Marshall (Rtd.) Djoko Suyanto, the Coordinating Minister for Politics, Law and Security.
This story has not been made public by the government until Friday. There are two considerations that may have become the underlying reasons for Djoko Suyanto, former Indonesian Defense Force (TNI) Commander, to open the fact to public through media.
First, public opinion has cornered the government in the people’s eyes as being weak and slow-moving. Second, the 3.5 million US dollars ransom money has actually been in the process of delivery to the pirates as the condition for the release of the sailors.
"The directive from the President was that the safety of the seamen is the priority," said Suyanto, saying that the government was not as meek as what had been depicted by some quarters in the public through media.
Suyanto said the government was formally notified of the case by afternoon March 17, 2011, less than 24 hours after the vessel was taken over by the pirates. After a five-day preparation, on March 23, 2011, TNI sent off two naval ships to Somali waters through Colombo, Sri Lanka.
On March 30, 2011, hundred personnel of the two TNI elite units that had been dispatched by air arrived at Colombo and boarded the two Indonesian naval ships which then charged at full speed going towards Somalia that day.
"We sent our boys by air to Colombo to keep them fresh," Suyanto said.
TNI had calculated that the two warships would approach the operation zone at the Somali waters by April 5, 2011. But suddenly the pirates, which had used MV Sinar Kudus as their command ship for directing hijacking operations on other vessels, moved it to berth on a ground position not anymore on the high seas on April 2, 2011.
"We had in fact expected to meet them on the high seas. Yet, surveillance missions were conducted to follow the ship," explained Suyanto, adding that the surveillance missions had been launched by using helicopters from the two warships.
From the aerial surveillance missions, TNI knew that MV Sinar Kudus had been taken by their Somali pirates in Puntland and hidden among eight other vessels of various flags. The blitzkrieg scenario, however, was cancelled as MV Sinar Kudus remained standstill and never went out of the area.
"We had expected that the ship, being used as a mother ship, would go out into the high seas again but it stayed there," said Suyanto, explaining that an attack on the high seas would have a better chance for success and less risk for the captivated seamen.
Suyanto made it clear that there have been communication between the pirates and the owner of MV Sinar Kudus in a bargaining fashion on the amount of ransom that could eventually be delivered to Somalia.
MV Sinar Kudus with 20 Indonesian crew, was captured by Somali pirates around 320 miles north east of the island of Socotra, Somali Basin, on March 16, 2011. The bulk cargo ship was on its way to Suez, Egypt, from Singapore, when it was attacked.
The crew stated that 30 to 50 pirates had boarded and taken control of the vessel. MV Sinar Kudus, owned by PT Samudra Indonesia, was carrying ferronickel from Pomala in West Sulawesi and on its way to Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
Somali Government’s Support
The dispatch of rescuing mission by TNI to Somalia may certainly have been done in secret and out of the formal knowledge of the Somali government. However, the Somali Ambassador in Jakarta, Muhamod Olow Barow, gestured a friendly approach on a military mission should the Indonesian government opt to resorting to that hard option.
Ambassador Barow said last Wednesday what the best way to rescue the 20 Indonesian crew members held hostage by Somali pirates was through negotiation for which his government was ready to help. "Other countries such as Malaysia and India negotiate first and foremost with the pirates. If that doesn’t work, then they take military action."
Barow added that the number of groups negotiating the release should be kept to a minimum to avoid having the pirates increase their ransom with a certain group. He further said Somalia would support whatever option, including military action, Indonesia chose to free the crew.
"We are ready to provide intelligence information," Ambassador Barow said in response to questions posed by media.
In the sea piracy context, the International Maritime Bureau’s piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur announced last week that Somali pirates had become more violent and aggressive in the recent months.
Up to 70 percent or 07 of the attacks occurred off the coast of Somalia, up sharply from 35 in the same period last year. Globally, there have been 142 piracy cases in the first quarter of 2011, according to the global maritime watchdog.
Attackers seized 18 vessels worldwide, including three large tankers, between January and March and captured 344 crew members. Pirates also murdered seven crew members and injured 34 during the period.
Somali pirates hijacked 15 ships from January to March 2011 and were holding captive 596 crew members on 28 ships as of March 31, 2011.
Navy successfully tests prototype ocean-going laser weapon
Science fiction became science fact when the U.S. Navy barbecued an outboard motor off the coast of California.
This was no pleasure-boating mishap: It was the first successful test of a high-energy laser and proof that a weapon using that technology could protect Navy ships or immobilize pirates.
The laser, mounted on a Navy warship, was able to destroy an outboard motor on a small boat bobbing 'more than a mile away,' according to Michael Deitchman, director of air warfare and weapons at the Office of Naval Research. The Navy is carefully guarding specific details of last week's test but the video is a popular stop on YouTube.
'We can really, kind of, get the attention of an attacking boat,' Deitchman said.
And the power of the laser can be adjusted for distance -- what the experts call 'tune-ability' -- from just a bright light to a small hole in the bow to the destructive beam that torched the outboard motor in the test. A laser weapon could be used to disable pirate boats off the coast of Africa or to keep suspected terrorist vessels far away from Navy ships.
There has been talk about lasers since the middle of the 20th century and decades of research about how to make an effective weapon. Deitchman says the successful test proved to scientists with the Navy and Northrop Grumman that the technology has potential.
Previously, lasers had been tested either in the air or on land. The humidity and up-and-down swells of the Pacific introduced a whole new set of variables.
In this case, the laser was linked into what was already on board. 'We were able to integrate into the existing tracking and targeting system,' Deitchman said.
And this 'proof of concept test' kicks the project along to Navy and Defense Department decision-makers who will decide whether to move ahead with additional tests and development.
'What we are doing is saying, 'Here's what's possible,' ' Deitchman said.