Somali pirates open fire on US Navy ships

Mar 20, 2006
Author: P&S

In an audacious incident off the Somali coast at the weekend, Somali pirates in three small boats opened fire on two US Navy warships after being challenged and told to prepare for boarding. The two US Navy ships, the guided missile cruiser USS Cape St George (CG 71) and the destroyer USS Gonzalez (DDG 66) returned the fire using small arms and set one suspected pirate vessel on fire and captured two others some 25 miles off the coast of Somalia on Saturday, 18 March.

one of the Somali skiffs that opened fire on two US Navy warships – picture US Navy

During the skirmish one of the pirates was killed and 12 others were taken into custody.

The action took place at 5.40am local time on Saturday 18 March 2006 while the US ships were conducting maritime security operations in the area as part of Combined Task Force 150, a maritime coalition task force currently led by an officer of the Royal Netherlands Navy, Cmdr Hank Ort.

The ships intercepted a suspicious looking fishing vessel which was towing two smaller skiffs and heading in the direction of the coast. According to a navy spokesman the location and action of the three craft mirrored recent pirate activity, which they regarded as suspicious.

As the Gonzalez approached and prepared to board the vessels for inspection they noticed that some of the men were armed with what appeared to be rocket-propelled grenade launchers. When these men opened fire on the US ships, both Cape St George and Gonzalez returned fire using small arms.

The fishing type vessel quickly caught fire after which boarding teams from both American ships took 12 suspects and the two skiffs into custody. Five of the Somalis suffered injuries. There were no injuries among the US sailors but the US ships took hits from small arms fire leaving a few bullet holes visible on the destroyer’s superstructure. The navy boarding team subsequently confiscated an RPG launcher and automatic weapons.

a suspected pirate vessel burns to the waterline after coming under fire from two US Navy warships on Saturday 19 March 2006 – picture courtesy US Navy (chief journalist Daniel Sanford) – click to enlarge

The captured men were given medical treatment and a medical crew from the Royal Netherlands ship HNLMS Amsterdam was later reported to be on its way to the scene.

On 15 March the United Nations Security Council sanctioned naval forces operating off the coast of Somalia to take action if piracy was suspected. Pirates have remained active on this coast despite the recent recapture of an Indian vessel seized earlier by pirates, which led to ten pirates having to face trial in a Mombasa court.

In an incident that appears to be unrelated, pirates last week attacked a ship on charter to the United Nations food aid agency. The vessel, the mv Rozen was making for Somalia with a cargo of food aid when it came under attack by five heavily armed pirates operating from a small boat. Despite being fired upon with RPGs and machine guns the Rozen managed to out-manoeuvre the pirates and actually rammed the smaller vessel, before making an escape.



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