DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - The U.S. Navy boarded an apparent pirate ship in the Indian Ocean and detained 26 men for questioning, the Navy said Sunday. The 16 Indians and 10 Somali men were aboard a traditional dhow that was chased and seized Saturday by the U.S. guided missile destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill, said Lt. Leslie Hull-Ryde of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command in Bahrain.
The dhow stopped fleeing after the Churchill twice fired warning shots during the chase, which ended 54 miles off the coast of Somalia, the Navy said. U.S. sailors boarded the dhow and seized a cache of small arms.
The dhow's crew and passengers were being questioned Sunday aboard the Churchill to determine which were pirates and which were legitimate crew members, Hull-Ryde said.
Sailors aboard the dhow told Navy investigators that pirates hijacked the vessel six days ago near Mogadishu and thereafter used it to stage pirate attacks on merchant ships.
The Churchill is part of a multinational task force patrolling the western Indian Ocean and Horn of Africa region to thwart terrorist activity and other lawlessness during the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
The Navy said it captured the dhow in response to a report from the International Maritime Bureau in Kuala Lumpur on Friday that said pirates had fired on the MV Delta Ranger, a Bahamian-flagged bulk carrier that was passing some 200 miles off the central eastern coast of Somalia.
Hull-Ryde said the Navy was still investigating the incident and would discuss with international authorities what to do with the detained men.
"The disposition of people and vessels involved in acts of piracy on the high seas are based on a variety of factors, including the offense, the flags of the vessels, the nationalities of the crew, and others," Hull-Ryde said in an e-mail.
Piracy is rampant off the coast of Somalia, which is torn by renewed clashes between militias fighting over control of the troubled African country. Many shipping companies resort to paying ransoms, saying they have few alternatives.
Last month, Somali militiamen finally relinquished a merchant ship hijacked in October.
In November, Somali pirates freed a Ukrainian ore carrier and its 22 member crew after holding it for 40 days. It was unclear whether a US$700,000 ransom demanded by the pirates had been paid.
One of the boldest recent attacks was on Nov. 5, when two boats full of pirates approached a cruise ship carrying Western tourists, about 100 miles off Somalia and fired rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles.
The crew used a weapon that directs earsplitting noise at attackers, then sped away.
Somalia has had no effective government since 1991, when warlords ousted a dictatorship and then turned on each other, carving the nation of 8.2 million into a patchwork of fiefdoms
I read somewhere that there are more pirates on the high seas today than at any point in our history!