Page last updated at 20:38 GMT, Saturday, 21 February 2009

Somali pirate patrol: Day three

The BBC's Jonah Fisher has joined British Royal Navy frigate HMS Northumberland as it patrols the Gulf of Aden in an EU taskforce to deter Somali pirates.

In the third instalment of his diary from the ship's deck, our correspondent joins a helicopter patrol.



Helicopter hunt for sea pirates

For the last two days I've been shown the British navy's search and respond capabilities in the Gulf of Aden.

But there have been no pirates.

This morning, in a bid to keep us entertained, the Royal Marines showed us their guns. We were even given the chance to fire them.

A huge inflatable red ball nicknamed the Killer Tomato was thrown into the water and allowed to drift half a kilometre from HMS Northumberland.

A 30mm cannon capable of 600 rounds per minute was then fired. With each earsplitting round costing nearly 50 ($72), some novice shooting from the guests on board meant sinking the Killer Tomato wasn't cheap.

After another helicopter ride in the afternoon failed to identify any pirates we returned to the ship expecting the day to wind down before a formal evening meal in the officer's mess.

Instead we were greeted by Royal Marines arming themselves to head out to sea. A lone skiff ahead of HMS Northumberland had attracted the captain's attention - and he wanted the marines to take a closer look.

I was on board one of the two Royal Marine boats as it sped a mile towards the skiff in question.

As we came closer it became clear that these were not pirates.

Inside the boat were 35 scared men, women and children.

The leader of the Royal Marines got out his Arabic phrasebook and ventured.

"Inta min wehn," he asked. "Where are you from?"

"Somalia," came the reply, in English. "Hungry. We are hungry"

The skiff was one of the many making the dangerous journey from Somalia's chaos to Yemen in search of a better life.

When we arrived back on board the Northumberland the radio on the bridge was buzzing noisily.

Several ships were worried about a skiff that was moving rapidly among them.

The helicopter was despatched to take a closer look and the marines readied themselves to head out again.

But - as has happened so often - there was nothing which gave the British any reason to believe that the boat was anything more than a fisherman on his way home.

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