U.S. Marines today stormed a German-owned commercial vessel that had been captured by Somali pirates, in what appears to be the first U.S.-led military boarding off the coast of East Africa.
The MV Magellan Star was located in the Gulf of Aden, about 85 miles south of the Yemeni town of al Mukalla, when 24 Marines from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit's Maritime Raiding Force boarded and seized control of the ship early this morning.
There were no casualties among the raiding party or the ship's crew, the U.S. Navy said in a statement. Nine alleged pirates were captured in the operation and are under coalition control.
Cmdr. Amy Derrick-Frost, spokeswoman for the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, said two teams of 12 marines stationed aboard the USS Dubuque boarded the Magellan Star at 5 a.m. Bahrain time.
The raid "went down in minutes ... and no shots were fired," she said.
The pirates were overwhelmed and "the smartest move is not to react in a hostile way and they surrendered."
The 11 crew members aboard the Magellan Star had remained in the ship's safe room since the pirates seized the ship Wednesday. The marines rescued them shortly after they overtook the pirates, who were armed with AK-47 rifles.
Assigned to the international anti-piracy mission off the coast of Somalia, the Navy's USS Dubuque and USS Princeton had responded to the pirate seizure shortly after it occurred. The Dubuque and the Marines aboard were travelling through the Gulf of Aden en route to Jordan for a previously scheduled training exercise with the Jordanian military.
This is not the first time the U.S. military has used force to intercede in an act of piracy. In April of 2009, Navy SEAL snipers shot and killed three suspected pirates holding the captain of the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama hostage on a lifeboat.
The difference in that operation was that the military acted after both the crew and the pirates had vacated the ship. Navy ships have also intervened during attacks while they were underway, but this is the first time a U.S. military team has boarded a ship fully under pirate control.
Today's boarding is not a change in tactics but a case of having the right people in the right place, Derrick-Frost said. "It was a matter of having all the right people, with the right kind of training to do these kinds of boardings to regain control of the ship," she said.
"It was the perfect combination."
Derrick-Frost said the international anti-piracy mission off Somalia has different security teams throughout the area that can conduct different kinds of boardings and seizures. The Dubuque had a maritime raid team aboard, assigned to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, and trained to do such missions.
The pirate seizure occurred in the area where the Dubuque, Princeton and the Turkish command ship happened to be.
Brig. Gen. David Berger, director of Marine Operations at the Marine Headquarters, said the Marines aboard the Dubuque were trained for various scenarios of Visit, Board, Search and Seizure, which is one of the missions for which marines in Marine Expeditionary Units train.
He said the Marines were aboard the Magellan Star for three hours.