12 February 2009
Thursday's incident started when the USS Vella Gulf received a distress call from the Indian merchant ship, Premdivya. The ship said it had been fired on by men in a small boat, who were trying to board it. The crew of the Indian ship detached the ladders the attackers were using, stopping them temporarily. Meanwhile, the American warship dispatched a helicopter.
Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman says the attackers fled, and ignored warnings to stop broadcast from the helicopter, so the crew fired two warning shots near the small boat. When it finally stopped, the Vella Gulf and another U.S. ship moved in and sent a boarding party to the pirates' boat, where they found weapons including a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.
Whitman says the men were taken into custody and will be transferred to another ship, the USS Lewis and Clark, for detention while the incident is investigated.
They are going to be remaining on Lewis and Clark until we have had an opportunity to collect the necessary evidence, evaluate it and make a decision regarding further transfer, he said.
The United States recently signed an agreement with Kenya for the prosecution of alleged pirates. That led U.S. Navy ships in the area to take a more aggressive approach, capturing and holding suspected pirates, rather than simply releasing them. Whitman says the 16 men now in U.S. custody will likely be the first to try the new system.
Once we have been able to satisfy our information needs, collect the necessary evidence that we have, we will be looking to turn these individuals over to appropriate legal authorities for them to address their activity, he said.
Whitman says this is also an opportunity to work out final details with Kenyan authorities for the transfer and detention of suspected pirates.
Pirates are currently holding several ships in the Gulf of Aden area, following a sharp increase in such hijackings last year.
Last week, after receiving a ransom, pirates released a Ukrainian-flagged ship loaded with tanks and other military equipment after holding it for 19 weeks. The ship, with its freed crewmembers, has arrived in the Kenyan port of Mombassa.
In keeping with a U.N. Security Council resolution, the U.S. Navy has recently increased its patrols in the region, in an effort to deter the pirates, who come out of chaotic and poverty-stricken Somalia. Warships from several other nations are also patrolling in the area.