September 24, 2008
Security team shots deter attack on MSC oiler
As concerns about continued Somali pirate activity mount, an embarked security team aboard an MSC-operated fleet replenishment oiler fired warning shots in the vicinity of two small boats, Sept. 23. There were no reports of casualties.
Despite defensive measures to deter the vessels from approaching the USNS John Lenthall (AO 189), small boats continued to approach. The rounds impacted the water approximately 50 yards from the closest boat and resulted in both small boats ending their pursuit. All shots were accounted for as they entered the water.
"This incident is clear proof that all mariners must remain vigilant," said Captain Steve Kelley, the commander responsible for all Military Sealift Command (MSC) ships in the region. "I am extremely pleased with the actions taken by the ship's master and ultimately by the security personnel aboard. They initially used defensive measures and when those weren't enough the security personnel took action to defend the ship."
Vice Adm. Bill Gortney, Commander, Combined Maritime Forces, has suggested that the shipping industry consider hiring security teams to protect commercial vessels.
While it is unclear if personnel on the boats were intent on attacking the 41,000-ton ship, it is clear they were not following the international rules of the road observed by mariners around the globe. More importantly, the location of the incident, the types of boats involved (small open skiffs), and the maneuvering they undertook was consistent with reports from previous attacks on merchant vessels.
Though a Fifth Fleet press statement does not disclose the exact location of the incident, it says that it did not take place in the Maritime Security Patrol Area (MSPA) in the Gulf of Aden, an area utilized by the Combined Maritime Forces to focus their efforts against de-stabilizing activities. Coalition forces patrol the MSPA on the seas and in the air on a routine basis
The 677.5 ft Lenthall is one of 14 fleet replenishment oilers operated by MSC and provides underway replenishment of fuel to U.S. Navy ships at sea and jet fuel for aircraft assigned to aircraft carriers. The ship is deployed providing fuel to U.S. Navy and Coalition warships in the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/ Commander, 5th Fleet area of responsibility (which includes the Arabian Gulf, Red Sea, Gulf of Oman and parts of the Indian Ocean).providing fuel to U.S. Navy and Coalition warships. The oiler is 677.5 feet (206.5 meters) long, and is 97.5 feet (29.7 meters) wide.