Pirate Capture Shows U.S. Commitment to Free Seas, Leaders Say

WASHINGTON, Jan. 7, 2012 — The U.S. Navy’s Jan. 5 cap­ture of 15 sus­pect­ed pirates in the north­ern Ara­bi­an Sea demon­strates the Defense Department’s com­mit­ment to mar­itime free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion, DOD’s senior lead­ers said yes­ter­day.

Dur­ing a taped inter­view with Bob Schi­ef­fer for the CBS news pro­gram “Face the Nation,” Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta and Joint Chiefs Chair­man Army Gen. Mar­tin E. Dempsey not­ed the pirates cap­ture rep­re­sents a rou­tine U.S. Navy mis­sion.

At about 12:30 p.m. local time on Jan. 5, an SH-60S Sea­hawk from the guid­ed-mis­sile destroy­er USS Kidd, part of the USS John C. Sten­nis Car­ri­er Strike Group, detect­ed a sus­pect­ed pirate skiff along­side the Iran­ian-flagged fish­ing boat, Al Molai. The mas­ter of the Al Molai sent a dis­tress call about the same time report­ing pirates were hold­ing him cap­tive.

A vis­it, board, search and seizure team from the Kidd board­ed the dhow, a tra­di­tion­al Ara­bi­an sail­ing ves­sel, and detained 15 sus­pect­ed pirates who had been hold­ing a 13-mem­ber Iran­ian crew hostage for sev­er­al weeks. The Al Molai had been pirat­ed and used as a “moth­er ship” for pirate oper­a­tions through­out the Per­sian Gulf, mem­bers of the Iran­ian vessel’s crew report­ed.

Dempsey told Schi­ef­fer U.S. sailors respond­ed “as we do to calls of dis­tress. We pro­tect free­dom of the seas, free­dom of nav­i­ga­tion. “We … recap­tured the ship, took the pirates into cus­tody, and returned the ship to Iran­ian con­trol,” he added.

The sus­pect­ed pirates did not oppose board­ing of the Iran­ian-flagged ship, and no injuries were report­ed in the inci­dent, the chair­man not­ed.

“I think in the face of the over­whelm­ing com­bat pow­er that was pre­sent­ed, the pirates made the right deci­sion and sur­ren­dered,” Dempsey said.

The sec­re­tary said pirate inter­dic­tion is “what we do in that part of the world.”

The action “sends an impor­tant mes­sage to the world that the Unit­ed States is going to abide by inter­na­tion­al rules and inter­na­tion­al order,” Panet­ta added.

The Sten­nis left the strate­gi­cal­ly impor­tant Strait of Hor­muz in late Decem­ber. Iran’s gov­ern­ment in recent weeks has threat­ened to close or restrict pas­sage through the strait, which is key to oil and oth­er com­mer­cial ship­ping routes.

Defense offi­cials have stressed that the U.S. gov­ern­ment does not seek con­fronta­tion with Iran, but will pro­tect safe and secure mar­itime pas­sage for ships tran­sit­ing the strait.

While the Iran­ian gov­ern­ment “often [tries] to pro­voke us,” Panet­ta told Schi­ef­fer, “the Unit­ed States, in this kind of sit­u­a­tion, is going to respond – as we should – in a very human­i­tar­i­an and respon­si­ble way.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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