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My sympathy for desperate pirates

PUBLISHED: 11:30 02 April 2009 | UPDATED: 10:35 23 August 2010

A DEFENCE expert working on the frontline against Somali pirates admits he sympathises with their situation. Fresh from his return last Sunday from a fortnight in the blighted Gulf of Aden, Graham Parsons told of his experience training crews and equippi

A DEFENCE expert working on the frontline against Somali pirates admits he sympathises with their situation.

Fresh from his return last Sunday from a fortnight in the blighted Gulf of Aden, Graham Parsons told of his experience training crews and equipping vessels to fend off pirates.

Last year there were 111 attacks, including 42 successful hijackings, and the latest this year was a failed attempt on a German naval supply ship last Sunday.

Seven pirates reportedly opened fire on a German naval supply ship they mistook for a commercial vessel but German sailors returned fire and captured the skiff. However, Mr Parsons, who works in Gravesend, said he sympathises with the pirates.

The 44-year-old said: "Desperate people take chances. I do feel sorry for people who are that desperate, I mean you've got to show some humanity towards them as well. I think that's pretty important.

"But that doesn't justify taking a vessel hostage. You've got to try and find your way in life, and that's not the way to do it."

He said the mood on the boats is tense, because they don't know how to cope with attacks, but he said once he has trained them they feel much safer.

Having first been called on to join a team of defence experts last December, Mr Parsons explained: "We go onto the boat and we give them reassurance and training. Once they've carried out all the anti-piracy drills you see the big relief that comes over them. I think it's really important that you let other people see you as being calm, collected and unflappable, because that's what's needed out there."

A close personal friend of troubled football legend Gazza, Mr Parsons manages Swanley-based Defence Services Ltd but was hired by another company for the work.

A multilateral coalition of naval forces has formed to try and combat piracy in the Gulf under the name Combined Taskforce 151.

This month the taskforce's response time increased from five hours to 15 minutes to reach a ship anywhere in the Gulf in danger of attack.

Piracy off the Somali coast has been a threat to international shipping since civil war broke out in the country in the early 1990s.

Shockingly, Mr Parsons said that if the pirates can get on board, they're almost guaranteed to get a ransom.

He said: "It's a fantastic job, and it's very worthwhile, because the threat is very, very real. Personally I have not seen any pirates, but that's because of our tactics. It's knowing where to be and how to move.

"I just enjoy being around people and bringing a bit protection and comfort. I really enjoy my job."

elizabeth.thornton@archant.co.uk

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