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Navy Rescues 13 Iranian Sailors from Somali Pirates

While Iran threatens the U.S. Navy, the 'Global Force for Good' rescues sailors aboard an Iranian dhow

The head of Iran’s military said that Iranian ships had “chased” a U.S. aircraft carrier from the Persian Gulf, and warned the USS John C. Stennis to stay out.

“We don’t have the intention of repeating our warning, and we warn only once,” said Brig. Gen. Ataollah Salehi, Iran’s armed forces chief.

What may have confounded Iran’s bellicose rhetoric and posturing is the rescue, by the very navy it scorned, of an Iranian fishing vessel with 13 Iranian sailors aboard who had been attacked by pirates.

The Stennis, flagship of Carrier Strike Group 3, recently passed through the Strait of Hormoz into the Sea of Oman in what the U.S. was a move scheduled long before the start of Iran’s naval exercises. The U.S. did not respond to Iran’s order not to return.

What may have confounded Iran’s bellicose rhetoric and posturing is the rescue, by the very navy it scorned, of an Iranian fishing vessel with 13 Iranian sailors aboard who had been attacked by pirates.

Al Molai thanks

A sailor assigned to the guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd’s (DDG 100) visit, board, search and seizure team greets a crew member of the Iranian-flagged fishing dhow Al Molai. Kidd’s visit, board, search and seizure team detained 15 suspected pirates, who were holding a 13-member Iranian crew hostage for several weeks, according to the members of the crew. U.S. Navy photo

“When we get a distress signal, we’re going to respond,” said Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. “That’s the nature of what our country is all about.”

On Jan. 5, at about 12:30 p.m. local time, an SH-60S Seahawk from the guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd detected what it suspected to be a Somali pirate skiff alongside the Iranian-flagged fishing dhow Al Molai. As the aircraft was reporting this, the master of the Al Molaisent a radio distress call saying he was being held captive by pirates.

A boat from the Kidd with a visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) team boarded the Al Molai, where they found 15 suspected pirates who had been holding a 13-member Iranian crew hostage for several weeks. The pirates surrendered without resistance. According to a Department of Defense (DoD) press report, the Al Molai had been attacked, then used as a “mother ship” to conduct further pirate operations throughout the region.

The Kidd’s VBSS team stated that the Iranian crew claimed they were held under harsh conditions, and threatened with violence for more than a month.

“The captain of the Al Molai expressed his sincere gratitude that we came to assist them,” Schminky said. “He was afraid that without our help, they could have been there for months.”

“We believe [the crew of the Al Molai] were forced against their will to assist the pirates with other piracy operations,” said Josh Schminky, a Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) agent aboard the Kidd. “After securing the ship and ensuring the safety of all persons on board, we began distributing food and water to both the crew and the suspected criminals, as is our standard practice in counterpiracy operations.”

The pirates were transferred to the USS John C. Stennis, where the matter will be reviewed for prosecution.

“The captain of the Al Molai expressed his sincere gratitude that we came to assist them,” Schminky said. “He was afraid that without our help, they could have been there for months.”

Meanwhile, Iran’s FARS news agency reports that a senior member of the Iranian Parliament has continued Iran’s position that America’s “threatening presence in the region” will not go unanswered. “Should the United States maintain its presence in Iran’s waterways as before with its rhetoric of threat, the Islamic Republic will act accordingly,” said Chairman of the Parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh. FARS has not reported the story regarding the rescue of the Al Molai crew.

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Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...