A SHIP which made international headlines when its crew was subjected to a terrifying hijack by Somalian pirates was berthed in Hartlepool just last month.
The Italian ship Montecristo was stormed by a crack team of Royal Marine commandos after it was taken over by pirates 620 miles off the coast of Somalia, in the Indian Ocean.
The Montecristo’s crew – seven Italians, six Ukrainians and 10 Indians – had locked themselves inside an armoured area of the vessel when the pirates boarded the ship on Monday.
With all lines of communication cut off by the pirates, the crew alerted the authorities to the drama by writing a letter before placing it in a bottle and throwing it out of a porthole into the sea.
It was retrieved by Nato warships which were nearby after responding to an earlier call for help from the Italian boat.
Rubber boats with commandos on board circled the Montecristo before boarding the vessel to overpower the pirates.
Italian defence minister Ignazio La Russa said: “The pirates surrendered right away, some throwing their weapons in the sea, and were arrested.”
The 56,000-tonne bulk carrier was berthed in Hartlepool in the first week of September and had moved on to Liverpool before leaving the UK bound for Vietnam with a cargo of scrap metal.
Mail reader Derek Hinds, a member of the Teesside branch of the Royal Ship Society, regularly takes pictures of vessels coming in and out of Hartlepool.
Derek, 68, from the Hart Lane area, said: “It came in just before we had the tail end of that storm coming over. I remember the weather was really bad and it had to stay in dock for a couple of extra days than had originally been planned.
“It was in Hartlepool probably dropping off cargo and after going to another couple of ports it would have been heading down what is known as pirate alley.
“That is a notorious stretch of water and we often hear of incidents involving pirates.
“Thankfully, the crew appear to have escaped unscathed from their ordeal.”
Referring to Monday’s drama, a Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “Due to the presence of the warships, 11 suspected pirates on board the pirated vessel surrendered without force.
“A Royal Naval boarding team carried out a compliant boarding of the vessel and the suspected pirates are being detained.”
Defence secretary Liam Fox added: “Such was the show of strength displayed by RFA Fort Victoria, alongside a US navy frigate, that the operation was conducted without a shot being fired.”