Crighton Rangiwananga knows how vulnerable freight ships are with wily pirates lurking on the high seas.
The 21-year-old marine technician has just returned after a seven-month tour of duty aboard the HMNZS Te Mana, patrolling the Gulf of Aden, Indian Ocean and Gulf of Oman on an anti-piracy patrol.
It was Te Mana's first deployment to the area since 2008.
The crew of 182 navy personnel first trained with the Australian Defence Force before sailing out to the coast of Somalia in late November.
The frigate and its crew returned to the Devonport Naval Base last Wednesday after spending nearly three months conducting counter-piracy operations for the Combined Maritime Forces Combined Task Force 151, CTF-151, and the NATO Operation Ocean Shield.
Crighton said the anti-piracy patrol's aim was to protect freight vessels sailing around Somali Basin, Gulf of Aden and Gulf of Oman from being hijacked and held for ransom by pirates.
Te Mana played the role of a bodyguard for the bigger freight vessels because they were popular targets.
The pirates had high-speed boats and they would pull along the side of vessels, Crighton said. "They'll pull out their ladders, chuck it over the side and try climbing on board, fully armed."
The marauders were also a far cry from the typical stereotype of parrot-toting men with eye-patches and wooden legs.
"There was no parrot and they didn't have canons. They also use engines now instead of sails," Crighton said.
Most of the vessels in the gulf were small fishing boats because fishing was the region's livelihood, he said.
The New Zealand navy kept a close eye on the vessels to make sure they were not pirate boats in disguise.
"We have a crew on board called the boarding team, specially trained to board these vessels, search them, ask questions and see what they're doing in the area," Crighton said.
Dry fishing nets were sometimes found on some of the vessels, which raised questions about its legitimacy, he said.
"But there's only so much we can do. We have a legal adviser on board to tell us what we can do or how far we can search," Crighton said.
No pirates were caught during Te Mana's time at the gulf but he said the New Zealand navy had still played an important part in helping to keep international waters safe.
"It helped New Zealand get recognised," Crighton said.
Te Mana's commanding officer Commander Shane Arndell said he was proud of the work his crew had done on the world stage.
"Sending Te Mana halfway around the world is part of a global effort and shows New Zealand as an international citizen, playing our part," he said.
"Through the presence of warships in the area the acts of piracy have dropped over the last few years and we are proud to be part of that."
- Taranaki Daily News
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