Sunday, January 22, 2006

On Patrol Off Africa, US Navy Ship Captures Pirate Vessel

Like the good guys of old, the U.S. Navy destroyer Winston Churchill ran down and captured a dhow with suspected pirates aboard, ending their reign of terror off the Horn of Africa.

The U.S Navy destroyer Winston Churchill chases a dhow hijacked by pirates off the Horn of Africa shortly before its capture. The dhow was sailing out of Domalia and was used to mount attacks on merchant ships until the Churchill caught up with it.

The Somalian-registered dhow had been hijacked by pirates off Mogadishu, the Somalian capital famed as the scene of real events depicted in the movie "Black Hawk Down," and used to mount assaults on merchant vessels.

A U.S. agreement with Sao Tome and Principe and separately with Nigeria may permit U.S. vessels to play the same roles in waters belonging to those countries, and indeed, some may see the action as a prelude - a demonstration, if you will - of U.S. capabilities.

A U.S. citizen is currently believed to be held aboard a pirate vessel belonging to members of a militant Niger Delta group that stormed the Royal Dutch Shell Benisede (Sea Eagle) floating oil platform off Bayelsa State in the Delta, which are Nigerian waters.
Somalia, however, has no government since it became a set of wqarring fiefdoms ruled by various warlords.

Here is the AP story on the pirate ship's capture:

Updated: 03:28 PM EST
U.S. Navy Seizes Pirate Ship Off Somalia

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (Jan. 22) - The U.S. Navy boarded an apparent pirate ship in the Indian Ocean and detained 26 men for questioning, the Navy said Sunday. The 16 Indians and 10 Somali men were aboard a traditional dhow that was chased and seized Saturday by the U.S. guided missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill, said Lt. Leslie Hull-Ryde of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command in Bahrain.

Kenneth Anderson, Getty
The U.S. Navy's USS Winston S. Churchill follows the suspected dhow pirate vessel Sunday in the Indian Ocean. After the seizure of the vessel, 26 men were questioned to determine which were pirates and which were legitimate crew.

Talk About It: Post Thoughts

The dhow stopped fleeing after the Churchill twice fired warning shots during the chase, which ended 54 miles off the coast of Somalia, the Navy said. U.S. sailors boarded the dhow and seized a cache of small arms.

The dhow's crew and passengers were being questioned Sunday aboard the Churchill to determine which were pirates and which were legitimate crew members, Hull-Ryde said.

Sailors aboard the dhow told Navy investigators that pirates hijacked the vessel six days ago near Mogadishu and thereafter used it to stage pirate attacks on merchant ships.

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 during the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

The Navy said it captured the dhow in response to a report from the International Maritime Bureau in Kuala Lumpur on Friday that said pirates had fired on the MV Delta Ranger, a Bahamian-flagged bulk carrier that was passing some 200 miles off the central eastern coast of Somalia.

Hull-Ryde said the Navy was still investigating the incident and would discuss with international authorities what to do with the detained men.

"The disposition of people and vessels involved in acts of piracy on the high seas are based on a variety of factors, including the offense, the flags of the vessels, the nationalities of the crew, and others," Hull-Ryde said in an e-mail.

Piracy is rampant off the coast of Somalia, which is torn by renewed clashes between militias fighting over control of the troubled African country. Many shipping companies resort to paying ransoms, saying they have few alternatives.

Last month, Somali militiamen finally relinquished a merchant ship hijacked in October.

In November, 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.

One of the boldest recent attacks was on Nov. 5, when two boats full of pirates approached a cruise ship carrying Western tourists, about 100 miles off Somalia and fired rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles.

The crew used a weapon that directs earsplitting noise at attackers, then sped away.

Somalia has had no effective government since 1991, when warlords ousted a dictatorship and then turned on each other, carving the nation of 8.2 million into a patchwork of fiefdoms.

01/22/06 12:07 EST

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