Saturday, October 21st, 2017

U.S. Ship repels pirate attack

US Coast Guard Maritime Security TrainingWhile the world’s attention has been focused on the drama aboard the MV Faina (And it’s 21 member crew) off Somalia’s Indian Ocean coast, there have been some other developments in the area which may point a much more sophisticated plot. On September 23rd, a Navy security team aboard the fleet oiler John Lenthall kept two small boats at bay with warning shots on Tuesday near Somalia, according to a bulletin from 5th Fleet in Bahrain.

The presence of armed security teams aboard U.S. Military Sealift Command ships is fairly common knowledge in the 5th fleet AOR, so why would pirates take the risk of attacking? It is possible that they were tipped off to be on the lookout for a ship carrying military hardware to Sudan and initially hit the wrong target.

Information on the incident clearly states that the intent of the small boat operators was uncertain, but notes the boats were in pursuit of the 41,000-ton Military Sealift Command ship and maneuvering “consistent with reports of previous attacks on merchant vessels in the region.” While it is unclear if personnel on the boats were intent on attacking the 41,000-ton ship, it is clear they were not following the international rules of the road observed by mariners around the globe. More importantly, the location of the incident, the types of boats involved (small open skiffs), and the maneuvering they undertook was consistent with reports from previous attacks on merchant vessels.

There were no reports of casualties and “all shots were accounted for as they entered the water.” The boats were approximately 300-400 yards away when the warning shots were fired, and the shots hit within about 50 yards of the boats.

“This incident is clear proof that all mariners must remain vigilant,” said Captain Steve Kelley, the commander responsible for all Military Sealift Command (MSC) ships in the region. “I am extremely pleased with the actions taken by the ship’s master and ultimately by the security personnel aboard. They initially used defensive measures and when those weren’t enough the security personnel took action to defend the ship.”

MSC ships are manned by civilians but do embark Navy security detachments. While U.S. Navy warships are protected by their crews, MSC ships are assisted by “Embarked Security Detachments”, specially trained teams of sailors that are drawn from the Navy Security Forces. ESDs are placed aboard MSC ships while the ships transit “high-risk’ areas such as the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden or Straits of Hormuz.

The John Lenthall is a Kaiser-class fleet oiler and replenishes strike group ships while underway. The 677.5 ft Lenthall is one of 14 fleet replenishment oilers operated by MSC and provides underway replenishment of fuel to U.S. Navy ships at sea and jet fuel for aircraft assigned to aircraft carriers. The ship is deployed providing fuel to U.S. Navy and Coalition warships in the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/ Commander, 5th Fleet area of responsibility (which includes the Arabian Gulf, Red Sea, Gulf of Oman and parts of the Indian Ocean).providing fuel to U.S. Navy and Coalition warships. The oiler is 677.5 feet (206.5 meters) long, and is 97.5 feet (29.7 meters) wide.

It was also noted that the incident did not take place inside the recently established “Maritime Security Patrol Area”, a zone in the Gulf of Aden to focus on piracy.

In March, an Egyptian man approaching in a barge was hit by a ricochet and killed after the security team aboard a U.S.-flagged cargo ship fired warning shots while the ship transited the Suez Canal.

This article reflects my own views, and not those of the U.S. Navy or my employer.

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