The Scottish Sun
Wednesday, April 04, 2012
High seize ... Marines nab pirates at gunpoint off the coast of Somalia
A GROUP of crack commandos paraded at the Faslane naval base yesterday to mark the formation of a new Royal Marines unit.
The elite 43 Commando — named after the famous World War II battalion — have just returned from fighting pirates around the world.
The parade also marked Comacchio Day, commemorating the 1945 battle of Lake Comacchio in Italy which saw Marine Cpl Thomas Hunter, from Edinburgh, awarded the Victoria Cross for his incredible bravery.
The new 790-strong group will be the largest Royal Marine unit in the UK.
Their official role will be to protect the submarine flotilla at the base near Helensburgh, Dunbartonshire. Each year they send hundreds of men to support Royal Navy missions around the globe including the war against piracy off the coast of Somalia.
DOUGLAS WALKER spoke to some of the marines about their battles on the high seas.
'They do it because it's worth their while.. we need to make it not so' - Col ALAN LITSTER
COLONEL Alan Litster, 42, is from Glasgow. He is married with a 14-year-old daughter.
He was at the heart of the operation which recovered the Italian cargo ship Montecristo from pirates on the coast of Somalia last October.
Cnl Litster said: “That was the highlight of my 25 years of service.
“We try to hit the period in between monsoons from September and December. This is when pirates are most active as they are able to get their boats off the beach.
“They will attempt to get onto tankers and anything with any value, either for cargo or hostages on board the ship.
“We put together joint operations with allied navies in the region. We operate from large mothership of our own.
“I embark four six-man teams who are highly trained in boarding and close-quarter battle. That’s part of a much larger grouping that uses snipers from helicopters and also frigates and destroyers as eyes and ears to deter the pirates or to capture them.”
And Alan coordinates operations to assist vessels which are under attack.
He said: “Merchant sailors try to get themselves into a safe part of the ship and send a mayday. We attempt to get to them before the pirates do.
“We haven’t taken incoming rounds from a boarding operation yet. Most pirates have thrown their rifles over the side and surrendered.
“The helicopter flying above with a sniper pointing at them tends to give them the message. Or a large warship pulls up alongside them pointing a very large gun.
“If they open fire the guys would take action and it would be pretty one-sided.
“What’s been key has been the ablity to prosecute the pirates afterwards.
“When we capture them there needs to be a due legal process.
“It’s difficult to return them to Somalia which effectively isn’t a functioning state. They are taken to the Seychelles authorities where they are processed.”
And the increase in prosecutions makes piracy a less profitable option.
He said: “They do it because it’s worth their while so we need to make it not so. They’re getting the message.
“Piracy is seen by some as attractive option but our job is to make it less attractive.
“We have a respected capability.”
'When I went in the water I was buzzing' - Mne DAVID ELLIOTT
BRAVE David Elliott, 23, of Greenock, has been in the Marines for a year and took part in his first mission off the coast of Somalia in December.
The operation hit headlines worldwide after they captured 14 pirates — including one with a six toes on each foot known as Six Toe Joe.
Yesterday David was awarded a NATO medal in recognition of his efforts on the operation.
David said: “We were on fleet standby and went out to take down a small pirate vessel.
“When I went into the water I was buzzing and kept thinking how I was actually doing it for real.
“There was a helicopter above us firing shots down at the vessel to slow it down. As soon as we went on board the 14 pirates surrendered. I was a cover man so guarded them at front of ship.
“They were stinking. One of the pirates had 12 fingers and 12 toes. He could speak a bit of English and kept asking where we were going.”
They found full cache of weapons, including 11 AK47s, two RPGs with missile, two pistols and several hand grenades.
Despite the dangers of his job, David’s family are happy he is there. He added: “They’re worried about me but very proud and would rather I was there than in Afghanistan.”
'You get the adrenaline rush of being shot at' - Cpl SALVO DE OLIVEIRA OTAVIO
CORPORAL Salvo De Oliveira Otavio, 28, is originally from Brazil but has lived in Edinburgh since he was ten, with his mum and Scottish stepdad.
He has been in the Marines for eight years.
Burly Salvo said: “The pirates use fibreglass skiffs which are very difficult to board.
“I bring the boat alongside and keep it there until we do a search for weapons and drugs and that kind of thing.
“We wait around for the majority of the time. But for a few hours we get the adrenaline rush of being shot at — or shooting back.
“The majority of time they surrender straight away and throw weapons into water so we can’t prosecute them for being pirates.
“By the time we get to them they’ll be out of water and food. So they are quite happy to surrender and get on board our ship. We then drop them off on land.” Salvo wanted to join the Marines after watching a TV programme on them when he I was 16.
He said: “It was about how tough it was and how hard to get in. I thought I reckon I can do that.
“At first I went to art college but then decided to go for it.
“I’ve also served in Helmand in Afghanistan and was in a vehicle which went over an IOD.
“Luckily the vehicle took most of blast and none of us inside were hurt.
“I’ve never told my parents to this day about going over it.”
But Salvo has suffered the tragedy of losing comrades in the field.
He said: “We lost two people when their vehicle went over an IOD and I volunteered to recover the bodies. It was absolute carnage.”
Elite unit's WWII hero
BRAVE Corporal Thomas Hunter, 21, was awarded the Victoria Cross after the Battle of Lake Comacchio in Italy.
On April 2, 1945, the fearless Edinburgh Marine spotted enemy machine guns in nearby houses as his troop was trying to advance towards a canal.
Realising they were wide open to the threat, Cpl Hunter made a daring charge across 200 yards of open ground, armed with a Bren gun.
Enemy fire rained down on the Marines — most of which Cpl Hunter attracted — but his bravery and determination demoralised the enemy.
As he single-handedly stormed and cleared the houses, six Germans surrendered to him, with the rest fleeing for their lives. Again offering himself as a target, Hunter then tackled some enemy pill-boxes, allowing his troop to reach shelter.
Firing to the last, Cpl Hunter was killed by machine gun fire and he was posthumously awarded the VC.
The citation said of him: “His magnificent courage, leadership and cheerfulness had been an inspiration to his comrades.”