At approximately 10:30 local time May 5, Military Sealift Command ship (MSC) USNS Lewis and Clark (T-AKE-1) was approached by suspected pirates off the eastern coast of Somalia and took evasive action to prevent a successful attack.
While transiting north to provide logistics support for U.S. Navy and coalition ships operating in the area, two pirate skiffs pursued Lewis and Clark for more than an hour, closing to a distance of approximately one nautical mile.
Once shipboard lookouts spotted the two suspected pirate skiffs, Lewis and Clark conducted evasive maneuvers and increased speed to elude the pirates. The ship's embarked security team also used a long range acoustical device (LRAD) to issue verbal warnings to the approaching skiffs.
Suspected pirates then fired small arms weapons from approximately two nautical miles toward Lewis and Clark, which fell one nautical mile short of the ship's stern. Lewis and Clark continued to increase speed and the skiffs ceased their pursuit of the U.S. ship.
"The actions taken by Lewis and Clark were exactly what the U.S. Navy has been recommending to prevent piracy attacks – for both commercial and military vessels," said Capt. Steve Kelley, Commander, Task Force 53, to which Lewis and Clark is operationally assigned.
"Merchant mariners can and should use Lewis and Clark's actions as an unequivocal example of how to prevent a successful attack from occurring."
Despite recent successful pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia, merchant mariners have proven successful as first-line defenders against pirates. Along with Lewis and Clark, a number of merchant vessels have conducted evasive maneuvers and other pro-active defensive measures, including embarked security teams, to protect their ships and their cargoes.
More than 30,000 vessels transit the Gulf of Aden annually. In 2009, there have been 97 attempted attacks on merchant vessels, 27 of which have been successful.
Lewis and Clark, which operates out of Norfolk, Va., is part of MSC and assigned to CTF 53 while deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet Area of Operations. CTF 53 is responsible for providing operational logistics support for the entire U.S. 5th Fleet and coalition forces both ashore and afloat. The ship also provided support to the counterpiracy task force, Combined Task Force (CTF) 151, as an afloat staging base earlier this year.
U.S. merchant mariners have a long and storied history of providing direct support to U.S. military operations ashore. From resupplying Navy ships at-sea to delivering combat cargo to deployed troops in war zones, merchant mariners have played an integral logistics support role in U.S. military operations.