Marine Log

March 18, 2006

Navy opens fire on pirates

Navy News Service reports that USS Cape St. George (CG 71) and USS Gonzalez (DDG 66) returned fire on a group of suspected pirates in the Indian Ocean, killing one and wounding five, approximately 25 nautical miles off the central eastern coast of Somalia in international waters at 5:40 a.m. local time, March 18.

The incident occurred just four days after a Navy warning to commercial shipping that "although the frequency of pirate attacks off the Somali coast has diminished, they are still occurring." And it came just three days after a UN Security Council request for naval action against piracy in the region.

U.S. Navy photo by Chief Journalist Daniel SanfordCape St. George, a guided-missile cruiser, and Gonzalez, a guided-missile destroyer, were conducting maritime security operations in the area as part of Combined Task Force 150, a maritime coalition task force currently led by Royal Netherlands Navy Commodore Hank Ort, when they spotted a suspect vessel towing two smaller skiffs heading west toward the coast.

As Gonzalez's boarding teams prepared to conduct a routine boarding of the suspect vessel, the group of suspected pirates were seen to be brandishing what appeared to be rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launchers.

U.S. Navy photo by Chief Journalist Daniel SanfordThe suspected pirates then opened fire on the Navy ships. One Navy photo shows evidence of small arms fire impact on USS Cape St. George's hull. Cape St. George and Gonzalez returned fire with small arms in self-defense.

One suspected pirate was killed and a fire ignited aboard the main suspect vessel. Boarding teams from Cape St. George and Gonzalez took twelve other suspects into custody, including the five injured. The Navy boarding teams also confiscated an RPG launcher and automatic weapons. No U.S. sailors were injured in the engagement.

The Navy ships are providing medical treatment to the wounded suspects, continuing search and rescue efforts for any additional suspects and collecting further evidence from the vessel and skiffs. Royal Netherlands Navy medical personnel, including a medical doctor, are en route to assist from HNLMS Amsterdam, reports Navy News Service

In an advisory to merchant shipping issued March 14, the Navy's Maritime Liason Office in Bahrain (MARLO) warned that the history of pirate attacks in the region suggests that the primary danger area is between latitude 0200N and 0400N and the secondary danger area between 0400N and 0800N. It recommends an increase in vigilant watch standers when transiting these latitudes off Somalia.

Pirates have operated at night and have cued in on ship's lights. Vessels traveling off of the coast of Somalia should use the minimal lighting that will ensure compliance with International Rules of the Road and safe navigation practices.

MARLO says ships should keep their Automated Identification System (AIS) on during transits. They should also keep their radar on, and should open the distance when they detect any approaching vessels on radar.

U.S. Navy Photograph by Chief Journalist Daniel SanfordThe pirates have used small boats/ skiffs as well as captured dhows and fishing vessel as motherships to serve as a floating base to launch pirate attacks. MARLO advises ships to avoid all close approaches from any small boats, fishing vessels or dhows and says that the pirates have operated as far as 210 NM from the Somali Coastline by employing a mothership to stage from.

It is believed that in earlier operations, the pirates used distress calls to attract good-natured mariners to the area of attack, and MARLO says that they could return to this tactic.

You can read the full advisory here: