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U.S. Navy Ships Return Fire on Suspected Pirates

American Forces Press Service

MANAMA, Bahrain, March 18, 2006 – USS Cape St. George and USS Gonzalez returned fire early today on a group of suspected pirates in the Indian Ocean, killing one and wounding five, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command officials reported today.

The incident occurred about 25 nautical miles off the central eastern coast of Somalia in international waters.

Cape St. George, a guided missile cruiser, and Gonzalez, a guided missile destroyer, were conducting maritime security operations in the area as part of Combined Task Force 150, officials said.

Members of this maritime coalition task force, currently led by Royal Netherlands Navy Commodore Hank Ort, spotted a suspect vessel towing two smaller skiffs bearing west toward the coast, officials reported. As Gonzalez's boarding teams prepared to conduct a routine boarding of the suspect vessel, the two Norfolk, Va.-based Navy ships noticed the suspected pirates were brandishing what appeared to be rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

The suspected pirates then opened fire on the Navy ships. The Cape St. George and Gonzalez returned fire with small arms in self defense, officials said.

One suspected pirate was killed and a fire ignited aboard the main suspect vessel. Boarding teams from Cape St. George and Gonzalez took 12 other suspects, including the five who were injured, into custody. The Navy boarding teams also confiscated an RPG launcher and automatic weapons.

No U.S. sailors were injured in the engagement, officials said.

The Navy ships are providing medical treatment to the wounded suspects, continuing search-and-rescue efforts for any additional suspects and collecting further evidence from the vessel and skiffs, officials said. Royal Netherlands Navy medical personnel, including a medical doctor, are en route to provide assistance from HNLMS Amsterdam.

Coalition forces conduct maritime security operations under international maritime conventions to ensure security and safety in international waters so all commercial shipping can operate freely while transiting the region, officials said.

On March 15, the United Nations Security Council encouraged naval forces operating off the coast of Somalia to be vigilant and take action against piracy. Pirate attacks against aid ships have hindered U.N. efforts to provide relief to the victims of a severe drought in the area, officials said.

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