The crew of a U.S. Navy destroyer rescued an Iranian fishing boat from pirates on Thursday, taking the hijackers into custody just days after Iranian naval commanders threatened that American warships should never again return to the Persian Gulf.
According to a Navy announcement Friday, an SH-60S Seahawk helicopter from the destroyer USS Kidd spotted a suspicious-looking skiff alongside the Iranian dhow Al Molai in the Arabian Sea. When the dhow’s crew saw the helicopter, it radioed a distress call reporting it had been hijacked.
The Kidd responded and its boarding party took control of the Al Molai and arrested 15 men. No one was hurt.
“The Al Molai had been taken over by pirates for roughly the last 40-45 days,” said Josh Schminky, a Navy Criminal Investigative Service agent aboard the Kidd, in the Navy’s announcement. “They were held hostage, with limited rations, and we believe were forced against their will to assist the pirates with other piracy operations.”
The pirate suspects were transferred to the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis, a much larger warship with more room to accommodate prisoners in its brig. The Navy said the men would be held for now while commanders decide what to do next. The Navy often captures and then releases pirates when it nabs them off the Horn of Africa, to avoid the complexity and confusion of a trial, but it wasn’t immediately clear what would become of the Al Molai hijackers.
Iran Brig. Gen. Ataollah Salehi had said the carrier should not return to the Persian Gulf, underscoring the threat with an ominous, “We don’t have the intention of repeating our warning, and we warn only once.”
As for the dhow’s Iranian crew, it took a very different tone: “The captain of the Al Molai expressed his sincere gratitude that we came to assist them. He was afraid that without our help, they could have been there for months,” said Schminky, according to the Navy.
The U.S. dismissed Iran’s saber-rattling. Defense Department spokesman George Little said that the U.S. is in the Gulf to maintain security and stability in the region, and to guarantee its waterways are open to international commerce.
So far there has been no comment from Iran regarding the U.S. Navy’s rescue of the boat.