October 3, 2003

Coast Guard unit helps nab Arab Gulf bandits

Piracy is becoming a lot more hazardous in parts of the Arab Gulf.

Navy News reports that U.S. and coalition maritime interception forces (MIF) operating in the North Arabian Gulf apprehended four suspected bandits Sept. 29 after they allegedly robbed several cargo dhows.

Coalition forces maintain a significant security presence in Iraqi waters in support of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1483. Under 1483, coalition forces will provide law enforcement and security functions for the area until an Iraqi maritime security force can be established. Coalition maritime forces are supporting UNSCR 1483 in order to help facilitate the normalization of commercial shipping for Iraq, which includes the prevention and prosecution of smugglers, and to help thwart other forms of illegal activity.

At approximately 7:30 p.m. Sept. 29, several dhows made emergency radio calls, claiming that a speedboat filled with four men approached their vessels and stole items at gunpoint. USS Fletcher (DD 992) directed its SH-60B Seahawk helicopter to investigate. The helicopter, from HSL-45's "Wolfpack," was already airborne about 15 miles north of the dhows supporting another mission when the distress calls were received.

Using their forward-looking infrared radar, the San Diego-based helicopter crew quickly found a small speedboat with four persons loitering in the area. Once the boat became aware of the helicopter's presence, it accelerated and headed on a northernly course.

Fletcher dispatched its boarding team in the destroyer's small boat, which intercepted the speedboat after a brief chase. The SH-60 crew maintained constant aerial surveillance of the speedboat, and aided Fletcher's boarding team in the final moments of the chase by hovering closely over the alleged thieves.

Fletcher's boarding team inspected the speedboat, and found several brand new tires, dozens of blankets, 20 flashlights and boxes of batteries strewn about. The items found matched the description of items reported stolen by the dhows.

The Australian Navy frigate HMAS Newcastle (FFG 6) dispatched a liaison officer and a translator to assist with the questioning of the four suspects. USS Firebolt (PC 10) arrived on scene with Miami-based U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET) 407, who performed a thorough search of the suspects and their vessel.

Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment 407 is based at Air Station Miami in Opa Locka, Fla.

LEDETs are just one aspect of the Coast Guard's small but critical contribution to Operation Iraqi Freedom. Still deployed to OIF are four 110-ft patrol boats, including the Miami-based cutter Baranof, and two Port Security Units, 308 from Gulfport, Miss., and 309 from Port Clinton, Ohio. 

At the height of combat operations the Coast Guard had approximately 1,250 personnel  from various units deployed to OIF including: two 378-ft cutter, one 225-ft buoy tender, eight 110-ft patrol boats, four PSUs, two Mobile Support Units and members of the National Strike Force. Strike Force Members are trained to respond to oil spills and hazardous chemical releases.

Coast Guard operations in support of OIF include port and coastal security, maritime law enforcement, humanitarian aid, maintenance of navigational waterways and contingency preparedness for environmental terrorism.

OIF is the largest deployment of Coast Guard vessels for a wartime contingency in 30 years

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