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American Forces Press Service

Panetta Commends Team That Rescued Iranian Fishing Vessel

From a U.S. 5th Fleet News Release

ARABIAN SEA, Jan. 6, 2012, Jan. 6, 2012 – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta today made a congratulatory phone call to the commander of a U.S. strike group that rescued 13 Iranian sailors from suspected pirates yesterday in the northern Arabian Sea.

Panetta called the USS John C. Stennis this afternoon and spoke to Navy Rear Adm. Craig S. Faller, commander of Strike Group 3.

The secretary congratulated Faller and the entire team, saying it was a "well executed effort," adding that the team did exactly the right thing and that he's proud of what they were able to do.

"When we get a distress signal, we're going to respond,” he said. “That's the nature of what our country is all about."

At about 12:30 p.m. local time yesterday, an SH-60S Seahawk from the guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd detected a suspected pirate skiff alongside the Iranian-flagged fishing dhow Al Molai. Simultaneously, a distress call was received from the master of the Al Molai claiming he was being held captive by pirates.

A visit, board, search and seizure team from the Kidd boarded the Al Molai and detained 15 suspected pirates who had been holding a 13-member Iranian crew hostage for several weeks. The Al Molai had been pirated and used as a "mother ship" for pirate operations throughout the Persian Gulf, members of the Iranian vessel's crew reported.

The pirates did not resist the boarding and surrendered quickly, officials said.

"The Al Molai had been taken over by pirates for roughly the last 40 to 45 days," said Josh Schminky, a Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent aboard the Kidd. "They were held hostage with limited rations, and we believe [they] were forced against their will to assist the pirates with other piracy operations."

Members of the Kidd boarding party reported that the Iranian crew said they were forced by the pirates to live in harsh conditions, under the threat of violence with limited supplies and medical aid.

"When we boarded, we gave them food, water and medical care," Schminky said. "They had been through a lot. We went out of our way to treat the fishing crew with kindness and respect.

"After securing the ship and ensuring the safety of all persons on board,” he continued, “we began distributing food and water to both the crew and the suspected criminals, as is our standard practice in Ccounterpiracy operations."

The pirates were detained on the Al Molai by the Kidd boarding party until this morning, when they could be transferred to the USS John C. Stennis, where the matter will be reviewed for prosecution. The pirates remain on the Stennis.

"The captain of the Al Molai expressed his sincere gratitude that we came to assist them,” Schminky said. “He was afraid that without our help, they could have been there for months."

Piracy is an international problem that requires an international solution and is a threat to all mariners, U.S. 5th Fleet officials said, and the presence of U.S. Navy ships in the region promotes freedom of navigation and protects the safety of those who transit the sea.

The John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group is conducting maritime security operations in the 5th Fleet area of operations while supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.



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