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'I have been waiting for this capture for a long time'

Text by Marie Sophie JOUBERT

Latest update : 2009-03-11

On January 27, the ‘Floréal’ captured nine pirates preparing to hijack a cargo vessel, the African Ruby. FRANCE 24 interviewed Sebastian D, the French Panther B 6452 helicopter pilot who led the arrest.

“Suddenly an alarm calling for an immediate air intervention rang on the ship. It was 1:18 pm. We left almost immediately. My adrenaline shot up: I had been waiting for this type of alert for a while. We’d flown out several times but with no success. I was sick of spotting fishermen on rafts, I wanted to see pirates.


I look for the pirate vessel on my radar screen. It’s not easy to spot such a small ship. It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. My co-pilot and I don’t need words to understand each other: after more than 50 hours spent on this kind of hunt, we’ve got a well-oiled routine.


2:00 pm: New adrenaline jump. Pirates at 11 o’clock! We open the side door and set up a 7.62mm machine gun. Then we dive onto the pirates to create a surprise effect. Turns out we’re the ones in for a surprise: there’s not one but two vessels. Most importantly, we see a ladder: irrefutable proof these men are pirates planning a hijack. First we flash our Stop sign: no reaction. So we ask for permission by radio to be able to fire warning shots.


2:17 pm: We fire our first warning shots. Eighty rounds in all. The pirates finally stop:  We’ve got them,’ I think. But at the same time I’m worried about when our mother ship will show up. I’m running out of fuel, and have realized I’ll have to turn back if the Floréal doesn’t turn up soon. To save gas we fly in circles rather than remain static. We’re turning so much our orientation panels go haywire.


2:26 pm: We see the pirates throw their ladder and at least one shotgun into the water. Too late: we’ve filmed the evidence. Fuel is running low and still no sight of the Floréal.


3:30 pm: The Floréal is finally in sight! We make sure they’re within sight of the pirates before we head back for an emergency fuel recharge. The whole process takes less than five minutes: the crew is working like a Formula 1 team! Then I’m off again, no time to lose.


4:00 pm: The Floréal sends its zodiacs out. My job is to force the pirates to put their hands on their heads. Then I cover the crew as they prepare to capture the pirate vessel: I’m responsible for their safety. Once they have safely immobilized the pirate vessel, I get out of the way. In the cockpit, we give each other an ecstatic high-five."

Date created : 2009-03-04