U.S. Marines nab Somali pirates in Gulf of Aden

By Craig Whitlock
Thursday, September 9, 2010; 11:49 AM

U.S. Marines rescued the crew of a hijacked German-owned ship in the Gulf of Aden in the pre-dawn darkness Thursday, apprehending nine pirates without firing a shot.

Two dozen Marine commandos took control of the Magellan Star, a cargo ship, by slipping alongside it in small boats and climbing aboard on ladders, U.S. military officials said. The pirates, all Somali nationals, surrendered within minutes and are in the custody of the U.S. Navy.

"The pirates were definitely overmatched," Vice Adm. Mark Fox, commander of the U.S. Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, said in a telephone interview. "We created a good plan and executed it really well."

The dramatic rescue occurred one day after pirates captured the ship, the latest in a string of pirate attacks and hostage-takings in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.

In this case, the Magellan Star's 11-member crew had thwarted the pirates by barricading themselves in an engineering room and leaving the ship to float dead in the water, about 100 miles off the coast of Yemen. That enabled the Marines to board the ship without fear of hurting the crew, which also had a radio and was able to maintain communications contact with their rescuers, Fox said.

The crew members were freed and reported uninjured. They were able to re-take control of their ship after the rescue, Navy officials said.

The commandos are from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit's Maritime Raid Force, and are serving as part of a multi-national task force to tackle piracy, which is endemic in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean.

Although forces from the 25-nation task force frequently deter and apprehend pirates in the region, attempts to rescue hijacked ships and their crews are rare.

In April 2009, Navy Seals rescued the American captain of the Alabama Maersk, a U.S.-flagged vessel, after Somali pirates had hijacked the ship in the Indian Ocean. In that case, Navy sharpshooters killed three pirates who were holding the captain hostage in a lifeboat.

U.S. officials now face the challenge of deciding what to do with the nine pirates captured Thursday.

Somalia lacks a functioning central government, so returning the pirates there would mean they would likely just go free.

The United States and other nations that conduct anti-piracy patrols in the Indian Ocean and its vicinity have sent prisoners in the past to Kenya and the Seychelles, the only two countries in the region that have agreed to prosecute Somali pirates. But on other occasions, the foreign navies have been stuck holding pirates for months when no country has been willing to take them.

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