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American Forces Press Service

U.S. Navy Captures Pirate Vessel Off Somali Coast

By Steven Donald Smith
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 24, 2006 A U.S. Navy ship captured a suspected pirate vessel in the Indian Ocean about 54 miles off the coast of Somalia Jan. 21.

The vessel was "an Indian-flagged bulk carrier, and the USS Winston Churchill liberated it about six days after the crew claimed they had been hijacked," Navy Cmdr. Jeff Breslau, a public affairs officer with U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, said.

The Churchill is a guided missile destroyer attached to the U.S. 5th Fleet and is part of a multinational task force patrolling the western Indian Ocean and Horn of Africa region.

After receiving a report from the International Maritime Bureau in Kuala Lumpur about an incident of piracy off the Somali coast Jan. 20, the Churchill and other naval forces located the suspected dhow and shadowed it through the night. On the morning of Jan. 21, after repeated unsuccessful attempts to contact the vessel by radio, the Churchill began "aggressive maneuvering" to stop it from advancing, Navy officials said.

When the vessel refused to stop, the Churchill fired warning shots, which brought the pirates to a halt. It took a second warning shot to get the crew aboard the vessel to establish radio communication and begin obeying instructions to disembark onto small boats the vessel had in tow.

Sailors from the Churchill then boarded the pirated vessel, where they found a small-arms cache.

Ten suspected pirates were detained and are still aboard U.S. ships. "An interagency and international process is under way to determine final disposition," Breslau said.

Several incidents of piracy aimed at international shipping off the Somali coast have been reported over the past year, officials said.

In the fall of 2005, Somali pirates held 22 crewmembers of a Ukrainian ore carrier for 40 days.

In November 2005, two boat loads of pirates approached a Western cruise ship about 100 miles off the Somali coast and fired rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles at the ship. The cruise ship took evasive action and outran the pirates, officials said.

"Piracy is an issue off the coast of Somalia as well as in many parts of the world. It is an international problem that requires an international solution," Breslau said.

Somalia has been without a central government since 1991, when warlords toppled the country's dictator and split the nation into factions. A reconciliation process has been ongoing. In August 2004 a transitional parliament was formed, and the assembly approved a prime minister in December 2004. The formation of transitional governing institutions, known as the Transitional Federal Institutions, continues to move forward, according to the U.S. State Department Web site.


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