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Navy Destroyer Battles Pirates
Virginian-Pilot  |  October 31, 2007
Sailors from the Norfolk-based destroyer James E. Williams boarded a North Korean merchant ship that had been hijacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia, while two other Navy vessels tailed a pirated Japanese ship in the same region.

The Williams, which left Norfolk in July , was about 50 nautical miles from the ship Dai Hong Dan in the Arabian Sea when it received word of the pirate attack, said Lt. John Gay , a spokesman for the Navy's Central Command in Manama, Bahrain.

The Williams dispatched a helicopter and ordered the pirates to give up their weapons via a bridge-to-bridge radio. The North Korean crew, which had retained control of the steering and engineering spaces, then confronted the pirates and gained back control of the bridge, according to a Navy news release.

Initial reports from the North Korean crew said two pirates were killed and five others captured, the release said.

Soon afterward, the North Korean crew permitted a small party from the Williams to come aboard, Gay said.

Three corpsman, accompanied by armed Sailors and a Williams crew member who spoke Korean, boarded the Dai Hong Dan from a rigid hull inflatable boat. The corpsman assisted wounded crew members and attackers.

Three Koreans were transported to the Williams for medical attention before being returned to their ship, Gay said. The pirates were being held on the Dai Hong Dan.

Hundreds of miles away in the same region, two other Navy ships were tracking a Japanese-owned ship seized by pirates over the weekend, Gay said.

The spokesman said that two "coalition" ships from Combined Task Force 150 had responded to the hijacking of the Golden Mori , a Japanese-owned ship registered in Panama.

Combined Task Force 150, which conducts maritime security operations in the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden, includes vessels from the Pakistani, British, French, German and U.S. navies.

Navy officials with knowledge of the incident confirmed that the U.S. destroyers Porter and Arleigh Burke, both based in Norfolk, responded to the Golden Mori's distress call.

One of the responding ships fired warning shots in front of the Golden Mori.

It also aimed disabling shots at two skiffs -- the boats the pirates used to approach the ship -- towed behind the Golden Mori. The skiffs caught fire and sank, Gay said.

Gay said coalition crew members have observed men carrying small arms aboard the bridge of the ship, which was hijacked in the Gulf of Aden, a critical body of water between Yemen, Djibouti and Somalia that links the Red and Arabian seas.

After the hijacking, the Golden Mori sailed 380 miles south and remained off Somalia's coast, Gay said.

Somalia has been without an effective central government since 1991. For years, U.S. and foreign warships have been patrolling the region's busy shipping lanes, which link the Indian Ocean and the Suez Canal.

"We're ready to do whatever it takes to protect this crew," Gay said. "Piracy is an international problem and it begins ashore. Ultimately, it takes the government of this country to stop piracy."

Robert Work, a retired Marine officer and analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments in Washington, said piracy is a "persistent threat" that the Navy has worked to address in recent years.

Earlier this month, the Navy added "maritime security" to its list of priorities laid out in its new maritime strategy. Maritime security includes intercepting terrorists and smugglers, deterring pirates and keeping commercial shipping routes safe, he said.

"Essentially, you don't want to use a billion dollar DDG [guided missile destroyer] to suppress pirates," Work said. "That's a mission for a much smaller ship. But we have a lot of ships in that area because of ongoing operations in the Horn of Africa. These are ships designed for high-end war fighting, not chasing pirates."

Still, whenever pirates seize a ship, it becomes a priority for any naval vessel in the vicinity, Work said -- regardless of whether the ship belongs to an ally, like Japan, or a potential enemy, like North Korea.

"The Navy does this for all mariners," Work said.

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