Marines Seize Ship From Pirates off Somalia
by CHRIS CARTER
September 10, 2010
MANAMA, Bahrain – Yesterday morning, U.S. Marines seized a pirate-controlled ship in the Gulf of Aden according to a statement from the Fifth Fleet.
Early Wednesday, pirates captured the German-owned vessel M/V Magellan Star. Crew members locked themselves in a safe compartment of the ship once the pirates had boarded. Thursday at 5 a.m. local time, 24 members of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit's Maritime Raid Force boarded the Magellan Star, capturing all pirates without firing a shot. No injuries to the crew, Marines, or pirates were reported.
Although the U.S. military has taken steps to deter recent pirate attacks, Thursday's action marks the first known occurrence of the U.S. military boarding a pirate-controlled vessel since Thomas Jefferson sent troops to combat the Barbary pirates over two hundred years ago.
The nine pirates are currently in custody of Combined Task Force 151 (CTF 151), a 25-nation task force whose mission is to “deter, disrupt, and suppress piracy” in the region. The Marines are members of the Marine Corps' elite Force Reconnaissance unit, and have trained for counter-pirate operations for several months prior to departing for the theater.
“This is a direct result of intense training over a long period of time,” says W. Thomas Smith Jr., director of the U.S. Counterterrorism Advisory Team and a recognized expert on seaborne piracy. “Any type of kinetic operation is dangerous. But when you add the elements of the sea, boarding, and then close-quarters once aboard, the danger is ramped up exponentially.”
Just how dangerous is it to board a vessel with armed pirates on board?
“Extremely dangerous for several reasons,” says Smith, who years ago as a U.S. Marine coincidentally sailed on USS Dubuque (the ship from which today's raid was launched). “First, pirates today are often equipped with everything from satellite phones, GPS receivers, and long-range telescopes to all manner of weapons, including RPGs, assault rifles and pistols. Second, if pirates have already taken the ship, they may be in strong defensive positions with good cover from which they may totally focus on observing and engaging the boarding parties, whereas the boarders are exposed and having to divide their focuses between engaging and boarding. Pirates also may set booby traps and establish ambush positions, and there may be hostages involved.”
Marine Corps Captain Alexander Martin, a member of the Maritime Raid Force writes
that the joint Navy-Marine Corps unit “conducts visit-board-search-seizure (VBSS), kinetic strikes on non-compliant targets, maritime infrastructure seizure and reinforcement, host-nation training, and other maritime raid and interdiction operations as directed.”
“Its execution packages come complete with supporting air, medical and trauma units, sniper teams, shadowing ships, Navy VBSS and ship-control teams, small-boat units, and a direct-action assault unit with an integrated infantry trailer platoon for support,” writes Martin.
The Marines are stationed aboard the USS Dubuque (LPD 8) as part of Combined Task Force 151, one of three such task forces protecting shipping in the area.