Pirates off the coast of Somalia have long been a problem, particularly since the beginning of the second phase of the Somali civil war just over a decade ago. In fact, Somali pirates impeded shipping, resulting in increased shipping costs, to the tune of approximately $6.6 billion – $6.9 billion in global trade in 2011 alone. But they don’t always get it right.
Early in the morning of March 18, 2006, two Norfolk, Virginia-based Navy ships, USS Cape St. George (CG 71) and USS Gonzalez (DDG 66), were conducting security operations in an effort to deter such piracy in international waters about 25 nautical miles off the central eastern coast of Somalia. During their patrol at a little after 5:30am, the ships were approached by another vessel that was towing a pair of skiffs.
USS Cape St. George, a guided-missile cruiser, and USS Gonzalez, a guided-missile destroyer, were a part of Combined Task Force 150 led by Royal Netherlands Navy Commodore Hank Ort. When the vessel was spotted traveling west toward the coast, the Gonzalez’s boarding teams prepared to conduct a routine boarding as a part of their security operations in the area. Those plans were put on hold, however, when they noticed the suspected pirates were armed with what appeared to be rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launchers.
The pirates opened fire on the Cape St. George, but were only able to inflict minor damage. The Navy ships on the other hand, had a little more firepower at their disposal. Despite using what the Navy considers ‘small arms’, both the Cape St. George and the Gonzales returned fire, killing one pirate, wounding another five, and igniting a fire onboard the main pirate vessel. No naval officers were injured in the skirmish.
Boarding crews from both Navy ships were sent out, capturing the two small skiffs and managing to bring twelve pirates, including the five injured, into custody and confiscating an RPG launcher among other automatic weapons along the way. A Somali pirate group claimed that the Navy had sent 27 “coast guardsmen” out to handle the situation.
The wounded pirates were taken aboard the USS Nassau (LHA 4), an amphibious assault ship, to receive treatment for their injuries and later were eventually released, only to be repatriated back to Somalia. Four years later a similar attack was taken out on the the guided-missile frigate USS Nicholas (FFG 47), however, the five captured pirates didn’t get off quite as easily that time, all receiving life sentences for piracy.