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Tuesday October 21, 2008

Ops Fajar mission accomplished

LUMUT: Seeing the relief on the faces of the hijacked crew members will stay with Kapt Mohd Zahari Jamian of the Royal Malaysian Navy (RMN) for a long time.

The KD Lekiu commanding officer was happy to escort the two Malaysian International Shipping Corporation (MISC) shipping vessels - MT Bunga Melati Dua and MT Bunga Melati Lima - safely to Djibouti.

“It was a triumphant moment for us to be able to bring the crew back safely to their families to celebrate Hari Raya,” said Kapt Mohd Zahari yesterday at a ceremony for the Ops Fajar rescue mission members at the naval base here.

The MT Bunga Melati Dua, with 29 Malaysian and 10 Filipino crew members, was hijacked in the Gulf of Aden on Aug 19 while the MT Bunga Melati Lima, with 36 Malaysians and five Filipino crew members, was hijacked 10 days later.

The crew of both vessels were eventually released on Sept 27 and Sept 29, respectively, after a ransom was paid for the two vessels.

52 days at sea : Crew families waiting anxiously at the Lumut naval base yesterday to greet their loved ones as the Royal Malaysian Navy ship KD Inderapura (background) is preparing to dock.

Recalling the escort mission to Djibouti, Kapt Mohd Zahari said it was quite tense as there were many other pirate factions in the Gulf of Aden.

“There is always news of pirates hijacking ships everyday and all officers on deck had to be on high alert.

“There’s a possibility that the two ships which had been released could be hijacked again by a different group if we did not escort them,” he added.

Kapt Zahari said all officers had to run through a “table-top” war game.

“On our way there, we discussed all likely scenarios and counter-measures to be taken should negotiations fail.

“Luckily, the negotiations went well and we did not need to storm the hijacked ship,” he added.

Kapt N. Ganesh, who is KD Inderapura’s commanding officer, said all members aboard his vessel were also tense during the operation.

“They knew it was no longer a training exercise but a real mission where lives were at stake,” “There is no telling how long we could be there pending negotiations with the pirates,” he added.

Kapt Ganesh noted the biggest challenge in their mission was to maintain high morale among the rescue team.

“As it was fasting month then, everybody was feeling restless and some of the members were getting seasick,” he said, adding that sports and training sessions were organised to keep them in high spirits.

Both the warships returned home after spending 52 days at sea for the rescue mission.

Besides the crew of the two naval vessels, the navy commando, Royal Malaysian Air Force and the army commando were also involved in the rescue mission.

Another RMN vessel, KD Mahawangsa, remains stationed at the gulf to escort Malaysian merchant ships plying the pirate-infested waters.

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