Officers seize Korea opportunity to fight piracy

Making a traditional Korean ‘love/heart’ symbol in the shadow of a waterfall are the men and women who will direct the international fight against piracy in the Indian Ocean from next month.

Two Royal Navy officers – Captain Andrew Rose and Lieutenant Commander Francesca Woodman – joined their South Korean allies on the island of Jeju to prepare for taking charge of one of the three key international naval task forces safeguarding the waters of the Middle East.

From June 20, South Korea will take command of Combined Task Force 151, responsible for policing an area eight times the size of the North Sea with just half a dozen warships.

The task group concentrates its efforts on counter-piracy operations off the Horn of Africa, the response of the Bahrain-based Combined Maritime Forces to modern-day brigands and high-seas robbers from Somalia attacking merchant ships and taking crews hostage.

The opportunity to meet the command team was invaluable and our visit to Korea reinforces the Royal Navy’s partnership with the Korean Navy.

Captain Andrew Rose RN

Since it was formed a decade ago, the group has helped to largely eradicate the scourge of pirates – who strike in ‘action groups’ of a ‘mother ship’ and small powered skiffs crammed with boarding ladders, grappling ropes and weapons (including rocket propelled grenades).

It’s been so successful there were just three attacks last year (all failures) and none to date in 2019 – but failure to patrol the waters between Yemen and Somali (dubbed ‘Pirate Alley’ at the height of the crisis) would almost inevitably lead to a fresh wave of hijackings.

Hence CTF151 continues to operate, directed by a different command team from one of the 30-plus CMF nations every few months. It’s typically a multinational affair, hence the presence of two Brits on the Korean staff.

They made the long trip out to Jeju to meet Rear Admiral Yu Byeong Ju and his team and discuss the challenges of the coming mission, as well as sample a little Korean culture.

Captain Rose, who will take on the Deputy Commander role for CTF 151, said: “The opportunity to meet the command team was invaluable and our visit to Korea reinforces the Royal Navy’s partnership with the Korean Navy.

“When we meet again in Bahrain, we will have already developed a joint understanding of our counter-piracy mission and friendships have been forged.”

Lieutenant Commander Woodman, who will act as the task group’s spokeswoman/public affairs officer, added:

She added: “This is an amazing opportunity to work with a multinational task force and in particular I am looking forward to the experience of sailing onboard the ROKS Gang Gam-Chan in the Gulf for two months – and trying to learn some Korean!”