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USS Ashland Captures Pirates

Three events over the past ten days have allowed the U.S. Navy to capture a total of 21 suspected pirates

At approximately 5:00 a.m. local time, the USS Ashland (LSD 48), was fired upon by a skiff manned by suspected pirates in the Gulf of Aden, approximately 330 nautical miles off the coast of Djibouti.

During the attack, the Ashland received small arms fire on the port side from the six man crew of suspected pirates aboard the skiff. The Ashland, in accordance with her rules of engagement, returned fire.

USS Ashland fired two rounds at the skiff from her MK-38 Mod 2, 25mm gun. The skiff caught fire and the suspected pirates abandoned the skiff. The Ashland deployed her rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) to assist the pirates who were in the water near their skiff.

Once it was verified that the suspected pirates no longer had weapons on their person, all six were brought on board the Ashland where they received medical care. There is no apparent damage to the USS Ashland and there were no injuries to any members of her crew.

Captain John Bruening, commanding officer, Nassau Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), expressed the commitment of the ships in the Nassau ARG to ensuring the success of creating a stable and secure maritime environment.

“This is why we are here,” said Bruening. “It is so much more than just putting a stop to the illegal activities of only one pirate skiff. It is about fostering an environment that will give every nation the freedom to navigate the seas without fear of attack.”

Three events over the past ten days have allowed the U.S. Navy to capture a total of 21 suspected pirates. Two of these events were precipitated by attacks on the U.S. vessels, while the third was in response to a fellow mariner’s call for help. USS Nicholas (FFG 47) was attacked late in the evening by pirates on March 31, resulting in the capture of five, while today’s attack on USS Ashland netted an additional six. The third event, USS McFaul (DDG 74) responded to the distress call from M/V Rising Sun on April 5, helping thwart the attack and capture an additional ten suspected pirates. The U.S. Navy is now reviewing multiple options regarding these suspected pirates’ legal dispositions.

Ashland was conducting routine Maritime Security Operations in the Gulf of Aden, when the ship was attacked. Currently, Ashland is supporting 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit sustainment operations in Djibouti.

The Nassau ARG is comprised of ships from Amphibious Squadron Eight (PHIBRON 8) including the Tarawa-class multipurpose amphibious assault ship USS Nassau (LHA 4), the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19) and the Whidbey Island-class amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48). Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (24 MEU) complete the group.

Late last month, the Norfolk-based guided-missile frigate Nicholas was fired upon by pirates, five of whom were captured. In a separate incident that day, the destroyer Farragut, based in Mayport, Fla., was called to the scene of a Sierra Leone-flagged tanker after the ship was attacked by three pirate skiffs. One of the skiffs was sunk, and 11 men were allowed to leave.

A few days later, the Norfolk-based destroyer McFaul intervened in a suspected pirate attack against a private vessel, detaining 10.

The Navy said it was reviewing “multiple options” on the suspects’ fates.

Some suspected pirates have been turned over to Kenya for trial, but there has been some reluctance by African nations to become a center for prosecutions. In December, the Dutch government released 13 suspected Somali pirates after the European Union failed to find a country willing to prosecute them.

One of the suspected pirates accused of attacking the U.S.-flagged merchant ship Maersk Alabama last year is facing trial in the United States.

At the United Nations, Russia has introduced a draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council that calls for strengthening the international legal system to ensure captured Somali pirates do not escape punishment.

In Turkey, a news agency reported Saturday that Somali pirates have abandoned a commandeered Turkish ship.

The Dogan agency quoted Fatih Kabal, an official of Bergen Shipping based in Istanbul, as saying the pirates left the MV Yasin C, which was seized Wednesday 250 miles (400 kilometers) off the Kenyan coast.

Kabal said the crew had locked themselves in the engine room and realized that the pirates had left the ship on Friday. He said crew members, who were unharmed, took the damaged ship to the Kenyan port of Mombasa.

Somali pirates have been known to give up on ships they believe have no ransom value, such as vessels owned or hired by Somali traders.

Meanwhile, the owner of a hijacked supertanker has begun negotiations for the ship’s release, a South Korean Foreign Ministry official said on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the talks. Repeated calls to the vessel operator, South Korea-based Samho Shipping, seeking comment went unanswered on Saturday night. The vessel is owned by a Singaporean company.

A South Korean naval destroyer that had been monitoring the ship began sailing away from the pirates Saturday and heading back toward the Gulf of Aden after the pirates warned the sailors not to come any closer.

Authorities say Somali pirates hijacked the 300,000-ton Samho Dream in the Indian Ocean on April 4. The ship was transporting crude oil worth about $160 million from Iraq to the U.S. with a crew of 24 South Koreans and Filipinos.

More than a dozen ships and their crew are believed to be currently held by pirates off the lawless coast of Somalia.

Source : from US Navy, The Associated Press, Virginian-Pilot

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