Two U.S. Navy ships exchanged gunfire early Saturday with suspected pirates off the coast of Somalia in the Indian Ocean. The Navy says one suspect was killed and five others were wounded in the incident.
The U.S. ships Cape Saint George and the Gonzalez were conducting maritime security operations in international waters when they spotted a suspicious vessel towing two smaller boats westward along the coast of Somalia.
Commander Jeff Breslau, of the Navy's Fifth Fleet, which is based in Bahrain, told VOA what happened next.
"As Gonzalez's boarding teams prepared to conduct a routine boarding of the suspect vessel, the ships noticed that a group of suspected pirates were brandishing what appeared to be rocket-propelled grenade launchers," he said. "The suspected pirates then opened fire on the Navy ships."
Commander Breslau says the two U.S. ships then returned fire with small arms in self-defense.
"In the exchange, one of the suspected pirates was killed and a fire ignited aboard the main suspect vessel," he added.
Twelve suspects, including the five injured, were taken into U.S. custody. A rocket-propelled grenade launcher and automatic weapons were also confiscated. No U.S. sailors were injured in the engagement, and there was only minimal damage to the American ships.
"Initial reports are that damage was limited to evidence of impact of small arms fire, but it won't interrupt the ships' mission at all," he explained.
Piracy off the coast of Somalia has been on the rise recently. Commander Breslau says pirates are disrupting relief supplies, and also pose a danger to international shipping.
"So, we've been keeping an eye on that while we've been conducting maritime security operations," he noted.
The Navy's main mission in the area is related to the war on terror.
"The focus of maritime security operations is preventing terrorists from having free use of the sea to either use it as a venue from which to launch an attack, or to move weapons or other material to support their efforts. But we also are prepared to respond to mariners in distress and we do that," he said.
Commander Breslau says the last time the U.S. Navy was involved in a pirate-related incident was in late January, when the U.S. naval ship Winston Churchill apprehended 10 suspected pirates off the Somali coast. He says they are currently standing trial in Kenya.