WASHINGTON – Two U.S. warships opened fire on suspected pirates in a small boat in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia Saturday when the pirates brandished shoulder-fired rocket launchers at the two ships as they approached, the Navy said.
One of the pirates was killed and five were wounded, the Navy said. Twelve suspects were taken into custody. Sailors worked into the night to quell a fire on the suspected pirate craft ignited by the warships’ machine guns. No Americans were injured.
Cmdr. Jeff Breslau, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy Central Command at Bahrain, said the USS Cape St. George, a guided-missile cruiser, and the USS Gonzalez, a guided-missile destroyer, were conducting security patrols in international waters off Somalia’s central coast when they spotted a small utility boat towing a pair of skiffs.
“All three were wooden boats,” Breslau said in a telephone interview from Bahrain. “They were about 25 miles off the coast and heading west, toward shore.” Breslau said the incident occurred at 5:40 a.m. local time.
Breslau said the waters off Somalia, a country that has been in turmoil for the past 15 years, are infested with pirates, seaborne armed robbers who board any boat or ship they can approach and rob the crew at gunpoint.
“A lot of it is targets of opportunity,” Breslau said. “They’ll take over fishing or merchant vessels, then head back to territorial waters where they demand a ransom.”
Breslau said Cape St. George and Gonzalez, both based in Norfolk, Va., were part of Task Force 150, which oversees security operations and interdictions at the Arabian Sea approaches to the Gulf of Aden and the Gulf of Oman. “The main focus,” he said, “is to prevent terrorists from using the sea.”