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Last Updated: Saturday, 18 March 2006, 23:28 GMT
US ships in Somali pirate clash
By Cathy Jenkins
BBC News

USS Gonzalez - file photo
The US warships were patrolling the seas off Somalia
The US Navy says two of its warships have returned fire on a group of suspected pirates off the Somali coast, killing one person and wounding five.

The incident happened early on Saturday as the ships were conducting maritime security operations, said a statement by the US Naval Forces Central Command.

The ships spotted a suspect vessel, which opened fire on them, it said.

Hijackings and piracy have recently surged off Somalia - which has had no central government since 1991.

The navy statement said the two warships - the USS Cape St George, a guided missile cruiser, and the USS Gonzalez, a guided missile destroyer - were conducting maritime security operations about 25 nautical miles off the Somali coast when they spotted a suspect vessel towing two smaller skiffs.

The Gonzalez sent a team to board the vessel and noticed that a group of suspected pirates was brandishing what appeared to be rocket-propelled grenades.

According to the statement, the suspected pirates then opened fire on the navy ships, which returned fire with mounted machine guns in self-defence.

One suspected pirate was killed and a fire started on board the vessel.

Weapons seized

The navy said it detained 12 suspects and confiscated a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and automatic weapons.

Somali pirates
The waters off Somalia are among the most dangerous in the world

It said the wounded were receiving medical treatment. No US sailors were injured in the incident.

The US warships were patrolling the area as part of a Dutch-led coalition task force.

The waters off the Somali coastline have become among the most dangerous in the world for piracy since warlords ousted Somalia's former dictator in 1991 and divided the country amongst themselves.

The International Maritime Bureau has warned ships to stay away from the coast because of the attacks. It has recorded 37 attacks since mid-March last year.


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