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U.S. Navy Captures Suspected Pirates Off Somali Coast

23 January 2006

Navy destroyer responded to report from International Maritime Bureau

Washington -- The U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill captured a group of suspected pirates in the Indian Ocean January 21, approximately 87 kilometers (54 miles) off the coast of Somalia, the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command announced in a press release the same date.

Personnel aboard the destroyer acted after receiving a report of an attempted piracy from the International Maritime Bureau in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on the morning of January 20, according to the release.

The U.S. Naval Forces Central Command said the USS Winston Churchill and other U.S. naval forces in the area located the suspected pirate vessel and reported its position after receiving the report. The Churchill, which is attached to the U.S. 5th Fleet, then shadowed the vessel through the night and into the morning of January 21.

At 8:03 a.m. local time January 21, the Churchill began querying the pirate vessel over ship-to-ship radio.  The Churchill requested that the crew leave the vessel and board the two small boats the vessel had in tow.

Following repeated unsuccessful attempts to establish communications with the vessel, the Churchill began "aggressive maneuvering" in an attempt to stop the vessel, which continued on its course and speed.

At 11:31 a.m., the Churchill fired warning shots and the suspected pirate vessel stopped dead in the water. At 1:02 p.m. local time, the 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.

The Churchill fired additional warning shots at 2:21 p.m. Immediately following that action, the crew of the suspected pirate vessel established communications by radio and indicated that they would begin sending personnel to the Churchill via their small boat in tow.

At 2:54 p.m., the master of the suspected pirate vessel began sending members of his crew to the Churchill.  U.S. Navy sailors from the Churchill then boarded the suspect vessel and discovered small-arms weapons on board.

The Churchill is part of a multinational task force patrolling the western Indian Ocean and Horn of Africa region to thwart terrorist activity and other lawlessness.

AREA PLAGUED BY PIRACY

Waters off the coast of Somalia have been plagued by recent attempts at piracy targeted against international shipping. Somalia currently is torn by renewed clashes between militias fighting for control of the country.

In November 2005, Somali pirates freed a Ukrainian ore carrier and its 22-member crew after holding it for 40 days.  It was unclear whether a $700,000 ransom demanded by the pirates had been paid.

Also in that month, two boats full of pirates approached a cruise ship carrying Western tourists about 160 kilometers (100 miles) off the coast of Somalia and fired rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles.

The crew of the cruise ship used a weapon that directs ear-splitting noise at attackers and then the cruise ship was able to take evasive action and speed away.

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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