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Vella Gulf Crew Captures More Pirates in Gulf of Aden

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 12, 2009 – American forces operating in the Gulf of Aden have foiled another instance of piracy and captured nine suspects, Defense Department officials said today.

The Navy’s USS Vella Gulf added to its haul of pirates after foiling an attack on the Marshall Islands-registered motor vessel Polaris yesterday, when the crew of the guided-missile cruiser captured seven pirates.

The Vella Gulf is the flagship of Task Force 151, which has been operating in the region since Jan. 8.

The Vella Gulf received a distress call from the motor vessel Premdivya, an Indian-flagged vessel transiting the region, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said. The radio message said the ship was under attack by individuals in a small skiff who were attempting to board the vessel.

The Vella Gulf launched a helicopter to the scene. “When the helicopter arrived, it signaled the skiff to stop immediately,” Whitman said. “The skiff did not stop, and so the helicopter fired a warning shot.”

The suspects, who are assumed to be Somali, continued to flee. The helicopter crew fired a second warning shot, and the skiff stopped.

“The Vella Gulf and a second destroyer --– the USS Mahan --– closed immediately and intercepted the skiff,” Whitman said. “They searched it and seized weapons, including a rocket-propelled-grenade launcher.”

The boarding parties took the pirates aboard the Vella Gulf. They will remain aboard the ship until they are transferred to the supply ship USNS Lewis and Clark.

U.S. officials are collecting the necessary evidence and will make a decision regarding further transfers, Whitman said.

The United States signed a memorandum with the government of Kenya to prosecute pirates. “We’ve not yet had the chance to work out all the details of the implementation,” Whitman said.

The spokesman stressed that these men are not prisoners of war and are suspected pirates conducting criminal activity.

“One of the ways we want to stem this type of activity is to ensure there is a cost to being pirates,” he said. “We have proceeded with countries in the region to identify ways to bring them to justice.”

Anti-piracy American forces in the region are operating under a United Nations Security Council resolution. Countries and organizations around the world are contributing to this effort.

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