THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Gaining fast on the pirates who had seized a German freighter, Dutch naval captain Col. Hans Lodder had no time to waste on bureaucracy.
Sidestepping the command of the European Union's anti-piracy task force, he went instead to his own government for authorization to recapture the ship by force.
Lodder first ascertained that the freighter's crew had locked themselves in a bulletproof room. Then he launched his ship's Lynx helicopter with a team of six special forces marines.
With troops providing cover fire from the helicopter, the marines rappelled onto the ship's deck of the MV Taipan to shoot it out, if need be, with the pirates. But they met no resistance. The 15-man crew was rescued, and 10 Somali pirates were captured.
"The pirates surrendered the moment they saw the marines," Lodder said in a telephone interview yesterday from the Dutch frigate Tromp. No one was injured.
Monday's successful rescue showed that, when swift decisions are needed, it can be quicker to work around the European Union's command.
It was the first time a Dutch ship involved in the EU mission had used force to recapture a hijacked ship. An EU spokesman could not immediately recall any incident when troops under EU command had boarded a seized ship under the threat of fire.
Lodder said he decided to seek permission from his own command for an "opposed boarding" — one where pirates may resist — rather than act under procedures laid down by Brussels.
"We just told my force commander we would operate under national command until after the boarding," Lodder told The Associated Press. "We kept everyone in the EU informed of everything we did."
A spokesman for the EU mission acknowledged the Dutch action avoided a delay and was legitimate.
"For speed of reaction, if you're on the spot ... (and) dispatched at haste to react to something immediately, the best thing to do is to go under national command," said Cmdr. John Harbour, U.K.-based spokesman for the European Union Naval Force Somalia.
"If we were about to conduct an operation with a bit more time on our hands then we may well have gone through the standard EU process with a view to consulting," he added. "That consultation just takes a bit longer."
Harbour also said the Taipan was sailing outside the zone covered by the EU mission when it was rescued, about 800 kilometers (500 miles) east of Somalia.
Dutch Defense Ministry spokesman Robin Middel said EU authorization was sidestepped to speed up the rescue.
Bibi van Ginkel, a senior research fellow at the Clingendael think tank's Security and Conflict Program in the Netherlands, said opting out of a multinational mission was possible at sea because ships are sailing under their national flags anyway.
It would be more difficult in land-based peacekeeping missions because the nations involved operate under the jurisdiction of the country they are deployed to, she said.
The Tromp may turn over the 10 captured Somalis on Monday to German or Dutch prosecutors for what would be a rare European piracy trial.
Pottengal Mukundan, director of the Commercial Crimes Services of the International Maritime Bureau in London, which monitors pirate attacks, praised the Dutch rescue operation.
"It is unusual and very welcome" that a navy recaptures a ship from pirates, he said. "That is absolutely the right thing to do. By denying the pirates their prize it does deter them from taking these actions."
Harbour, of the EU naval force, said the Dutch mission highlighted not the EU's laborious decision-making processes, but rather its ability to navigate a way quickly through them.
The Dutch rescue mission came a day after suspected Somali pirates hijacked a South Korean-operated supertanker carrying about $160 million of crude oil in the Indian Ocean. A South Korean navy destroyer caught up with the tanker on Tuesday and was sailing nearby.
South Korea's navy received a call Sunday from the South Korean-operated 300,000-ton Samho Dream, sailing from Iraq to the United States, saying three pirates had boarded it and then lost contact.
At the time, the tanker was about 930 miles (1,500 kilometers) southeast of the Gulf of Aden. It has 24 crew — five South Koreans and 19 Filipinos.
The destroyer caught up and began operating near the hijacked supertanker as of early yesterday South Korean time, which was late Monday where the ships were operating, South Korea's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The tanker was sailing toward Somalia's coast, the ministry said.
Mukundan said his organization has logged 42 attacks on shipping off the Horn of Africa so far this year including 10 hijackings.
At the United Nations, Russia's Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said he introduced a draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council that calls for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to produce a report in three months on ways to strengthen the international legal system to ensure that captured Somali pirates do not escape punishment.
"The piracy industry is growing and it is becoming a major headache for the international community," Churkin said. "We feel that one of the weak links ... is the legal process that will allow us to be sure that there is no impunity once pirates are caught off the coast of Somalia."
Churkin expressed appreciation for the efforts of some regional countries, including Kenya and the Seychelles, in offering to prosecute pirates "but we understand that they're under pressure and they're encountering problems in this regard."
He expressed concern that some detained pirates were being freed because there was no place to prosecute them.
As one example, the Dutch government on Dec. 18 released 13 Somali pirates it detained nearly two weeks earlier after the European Union failed to find a country willing to prosecute them. Defense Minister Eimert van Middelkoop said he regretted that neither Kenya nor Tanzania was prepared to take the men despite requests from the EU.
Associated Press Writers Sangwon Yoon and Hyung-jin Kim in Seoul, South Korea, Tom Maliti in Nairobi, Kenya, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, and Amy Shafer in Chicago contributed to this report.