U.S. Marines early Thursday boarded and took control of a German-owned commercial vessel that had been attacked and captured by pirates, in what appeared to be the first American-led military boarding of its kind amid the recent surge in piracy along the east coast of Africa.
It wasn't immediately clear where the U.S. took the ship. U.S. and allied warships have been patrolling the Gulf of Aden and neighboring waters for months after Somalia-based pirates started to ratchet up their attacks there and along the coast of east Africa.
It reportedly took the Marines an hour to subdue the pirates and retake the ship, the M/V Magellan Star, which had been attacked early Sept. 8. The nine captured pirates remain on the Magellan Star awaiting transfer. No shots were reported fired as Marines overtook the pirates, and no injuries or casualties were reported.
This successful mission by Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) secured the safety of the ship's crew and returned control of the ship to the civilian mariners.
A Turkish warship was the first on the scene, responding to a distress call from Magellan Star, Sept. 8. Two additional U.S. warships, the USS Dubuque and USS Princeton arrived in the vicinity of the attack to provide support to the Turkish ship.
Turkish Navy Rear Adm. Sinan Ertugrul said, "units from the multi-national maritime force, under Combined Task Force 151 (CTF-151), are actively engaged in anti-piracy operations. This regional problem, truly, has global impact and we are completely committed to bringing the disruptive acts of piracy to an end. We have full support of the international community and will continue to do everything possible to bring security to the Gulf of Aden and Somali Basin."
CTF-151 is one of three task forces operated by the 25-nation Combined Maritime Forces (CMF). CTF-151 was established in January 2009 in order to deter, disrupt, and suppress piracy, protecting maritime vessels of all nationalities and securing international freedom of navigation.
In the spring of 2009, the U.S. military intervened in a pirate attack on a U.S.-flagged merchant ship. The crew of that ship retook control of the vessel, but pirates escaped in a lifeboat with the captain of the ship as a hostage. U.S. snipers killed three pirates, captured a fourth and freed the captain in an elaborate naval-rescue operation.
American warships since then have intervened a number of times to ward off attacks while they were still under way, often sending helicopters over ships being pursued by pirates, for instance. But this appeared to be the first time that a U.S. military team boarded a large vessel under pirate control.
French commandos in the past have stormed French-owned ships taken by pirates, with mixed results. Most other European navies have opted to take military action only as a last resort, though other navies, including Russian and Indian ships, have taken more aggressive action recently.
Navy commanders are often frustrated by not having ships or aircraft available to respond to attacks, considering the large expanse of ocean they are patrolling.
A U.S. Navy spokesman said Thursday's raid didn't necessarily signal a change in tactics in the U.S. response to pirate attacks. But because commanders had resources available this time around, they decided to act.