US Navy still battles pirates on the high seas
Nov 05, 2007
Washington, DC, 2 November 2007 (US Department of State) – Countering piracy, or any other threat, comes naturally to US Navy personnel patrolling critical sea lanes around the world, and October was a busy month for those monitoring pirate activities off the east coast of Africa.
On 30 October, a US Navy destroyer answered a call for help - relayed through the International Maritime Bureau - from the North Korean crew on a vessel that had been overtaken by pirates in international waters on 29 October.
The USS James Williams dispatched a helicopter to the sugar-laden Dai Hong Dan, poised 60 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia, to investigate the situation.
The helicopter confirmed the plight of the ship - the pirates had taken control of the ship's bridge while the crew was confined to the steering and engineering areas -- and the destroyer headed to the scene. Upon its arrival, the Navy demanded the pirates surrender.
The arrival of US assistance emboldened the North Koreans to take on the pirates, and a gun battle ensued that left two pirates dead and five captured. Although the North Korean crew regained control of their ship, three members were wounded in the fight.
US Navy medics were invited on board to treat the wounded. The North Korean sailors were transferred to the American destroyer for medical treatment and later returned to their vessel. The five surviving pirates were kept under guard on the North Korean ship, which returned to the Somali port of Mogadishu.
A coalition vessel destroyed the two pirate skiffs so they would not be used again for nefarious purposes.
Piracy is an ongoing problem along the Somali coast. Some of the pirates are connected to Somali clans and have been outfitted with sophisticated weapons and tracking equipment.
For the Navy, safeguarding critical sea lanes and reacting to conventional threats such as pirates or terrorists is all part of a day's work. US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Todd Vician told USINFO that countering piracy is just one part of a broader maritime security strategy.
The 30 October incident had bilateral implications. The South Korea press speculated that US assistance to the North Korean crew may contribute to "a growing détente" between North Korea and the United States. A South Korean news agency, Yonhap, said the ship incident will likely help efforts toward normalised US-North Korean diplomatic ties. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill told reporters in Beijing on 31 October that he discussed the pirate incident and the Navy's intercession during talks with his North Korean counterpart on the effort to end the threat of nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula.
Navy Commander Lydia Robertson of the US Fifth Fleet in Bahrain told the Associated Press that the Navy's goal is to remove pirates from any transport vessel so "ships can return to legitimate shipping traffic and transit."
A public affairs spokesman with US Central Command said piracy is "a serious international problem that requires an international solution." The Navy, he said, will continue to work with international organisations like the Malaysian-based International Maritime Bureau "to encourage mariners to take necessary precautions to improve their safety and security."
US and coalition forces routinely conduct maritime security operations. Navy Lieutenant Junior Grade Joseph Holstead said such operations are carried out in a manner consistent with international law "to help ensure security and safety in international waters so that all commercial shipping can operate freely while transiting the region."
In a separate incident in October, a Panamanian-flagged ship sent out a distress call in the Gulf of Aden. US and coalition forces from Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Pakistan, the United Kingdom and other nations are monitoring the situation.
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