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Navy photo shows Churchill in pursuit of dhow

January 23 2006

Navy captures suspected pirates

At approximately 3 p.m. local time Jan. 21, reports Navy News Service, the U.S. 5th Fleet captured a group of suspected pirates in the Indian Ocean, approximately 54 miles off the central eastern coast of Somalia.

Navy photo show small boat towed by dhow

After receiving a report of an attempted act of piracy from the International Maritime Bureau in Kuala Lumpur on the morning of Jan. 20, the guided-missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG 81) and other U.S. naval forces in the area located the vessel of the suspected pirates and reported its position. Churchill then shadowed the vessel through the night and into the morning of Jan. 21.

At 8:03 a.m. local time Jan. 21, reports Navy New Service, Churchill began querying the pirate vessel over ship-to-ship radio. Churchill requested that the crew leave the vessel and board the two small boats the vessel had in tow. Following repeated attempts to establish communications with the vessel to no avail, Churchill began aggressive maneuvering in an attempt to stop the vessel. The vessel continued on its course and speed.

At 11:31 a.m. local time, Churchill fired warning shots. The vessel cut speed and went dead in the water.

At 1:02 p.m. local time, Churchill issued a warning via ship-to-ship radio that it would begin taking further actions to force the crew to respond to questioning and depart the vessel. At 2:21 p.m. local time, Churchill fired additional warning shots, and at that time the crew of the suspected pirate vessel established communications by radio and indicated that they would begin sending personnel to Churchill via their small boat in tow.

At 2:54 p.m. local time, the master of the pirate vessel started sending members of the crew to Churchill.

U.S. Navy Sailors from Churchill then boarded the suspect vessel and discovered small-arms weapons on board.

As yet, the Navy has released no further details.

The last time piracy off Somalia made the headlines was last November, when the cruise ship Seabourn Spirit was the subject of a foiled attack. The "pursuit boats" towed by the captured dhow look very like a boat used in the Seabourn Spirit attack and photographed by one of the passengers.

The detention of the suspected pirate vessel came only days after the Navy's Maritime Liaison Office (MARLO), Bahrain, issued an advisory warning that pirates remained active off Somalia.

In a January 19 advisory, MARLO reported that within the last two weeks "pirates were actively attempting to stage attacks on commercial vessels in the sea lanes off Somalia."

MARLO repeated its earlier advice and urged all vessels to remain at least 200 nautical miles off the eastern coast of Somalia.