MANAMA, Bahrain — U.S. Marine commandos stormed a pirate-held cargo vessel off the Somalia coast Thursday, reclaiming control of the ship and taking nine prisoners without firing a shot, the U.S. Navy said.
The Navy declined to give specific tactics used in the pre-dawn raid, but it ranks among the most dramatic high seas confrontations with pirates by an international task force created to protect shipping lanes off lawless Somalia.
Lt. John Fage, a spokesman at the U.S. Fifth Fleet headquarters in Bahrain, said the operation took about an hour and no injuries were reported among the Marines or crew of the German-owned Magellan Star, which was commandeered by pirates on Wednesday.
“There were no shots fired,” Fage said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.
A Turkish frigate on anti-piracy patrols, TCG Gokceada, first responded to a distress call from the Magellan Star, which flies the flag of Antigua and Barbuda.
The U.S. team from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Maritime Raid Force launched the assault from aboard the USS Dubuque, an amphibious transport ship, a U.S. Navy statement said.
Fage said details of the operation could not be disclosed under Navy policies. But he noted the Marine Expeditionary Unit has the capability to board ships both by sea and air.
The Navy statement said nine suspected pirates were taken into custody.
U.S. warships are part of a 25-nation mission protecting merchant vessels from pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia and into the Gulf of Aden. The task force often opens fire on suspected pirates, but boarding raids are rare.
In April 2009, a team of Navy Seal sharpshooters positioned on the fantail of a U.S. warship killed a trio of Somali pirates to free an American sea captain who had been taken hostage and was being held at gunpoint onboard a lifeboat.
Last month, Denmark said a helicopter from one of its warships fired warning shots and foiled a pirate attack off Somalia.
At the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said last month options under consideration to prosecute suspected pirates include creating a special international court.
More than 140 piracy-related incidents have been reported off Somalia’s coast since January and more than 30 ships have been hijacked, according to U.N. and anti-piracy task force reports.