Israelis fend off pirates in ocean firefight

The Italian cruise ship MSC Melody is escorted by a Spanish frigate after its brush with pirates

The Italian cruise ship MSC Melody is escorted by a Spanish frigate after its brush with pirates

A team of Israeli security guards fought off armed Somali pirates who tried to hijack an Italian cruise ship in the Indian Ocean.

The Israelis fired pistols and used water hoses to repel six invaders who attacked in a fast motor boat, shooting and attempting to climb onto the cruise ship using a rope ladder.

The 991 passengers remained in their cabins as the drama unfolded. “It felt like we were in a war,” said the MSC Melody’s captain, Commander Ciro Pinto. “They were climbing up so we reacted, we started firing. When they saw us firing — we even sprayed them with water from the fire-hose — they gave up and went off.” There were no casualties. The cruise ship was 190 miles from the Seychelles when the attack took place. The passengers are on a three-week cruise from Durban, South Africa to Genoa, Italy. A Spanish warship escorted the ship onwards through the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden.

The incident highlighted the presence of hundreds of Israeli ex-commandos who are guarding ships against pirates off the coast of East Africa.

“Many former soldiers from elite units find work after their army service in lucrative security contracts,” said a senior source at the Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv. “As long as they don’t sell arms, only their own expertise, we can’t regulate them.”

Most of the Israelis are employed by international security companies that use Israeli agencies to check their background and military records.

“Anyone who served in an elite unit can get a well-paying job in one of these firms,” said a former captain in the Navy’s Sea Commando unit, “but since 9/11, when shipping companies have had to improve their security, there has been demand for people with naval experience. It’s not just about shooting straight, you have to be familiar with ships’ radar systems, difficult sea conditions, and know where the weak points are in the ship’s structure.”

As the threat from piracy has intensified, there is even greater demand for security personnel and a number of former Israeli officers are setting up specialist firms to supply the demand.

One idea currently being explored is to set up to two floating bases, to the north and south of the Gulf of Aden, capable of rapid-response operations to protect ships most at risk of pirate attacks.

    Last updated: 4:37pm, April 30 2009