In a display of brazenness, suspected pirates opened fire on an Italian naval helicopter that was serving as part of an international anti-piracy force in the Indian Ocean.
“The ship was conducting anti-piracy drills off the Somali coast,” Lieutenant Commander Jacqueline Sherriff, spokeswoman for the European Union Naval Force, confirmed in a call with the Daily News Egypt. “One of its helicopters drew small arms fire.”
The bullets shattered the Plexiglas window of the helicopter’s cab and a piece of the glass went into the pilot’s neck.
The helicopter returned to base and the crew were treated for their injuries. The injuries were not fatal.
A press release from the Italian navy said “From an initial reconstruction of the facts shots were fired from a vessel suspected of having been attacked and taken hostage by suspected pirates. The helicopter, San Giusto, has not responded to the fire to not endanger the safety of any hostages.”
Sherriff added that the suspected pirate vessel was not pursued because “at the time the helicopter landed the priority was to ensure the safety of the crew. Tests were done to see if the helicopter was fit to fly, and of course the crew was treated.”
The helicopter was part of an anti-piracy operation called Atalanta, which was commissioned by the UN to clamp down on piracy.
Somalia itself has almost no functioning government and cannot mobilise the resources to combat pirates, who often live lavish lifestyles in areas where the government cannot reach.
Amongst other things, the Atalanta operation helps keep open sea routes for the United Nations World Food Programme and the African Union Mission in Somalia, which is a coalition of African nations fighting the Al-Shabab Islamist rebels in Somalia.
The European Naval Force Somalia began operation Atalanta at the end of 2008 with the goal of “improving maritime security off the coast of Somalia and in the Indian Ocean.”