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U.S. Navy Rescues 13 Iranian Fishermen Kidnapped by Somali Pirates

On Tuesday, Iran’s army chief Major General Ataollah Salehi responded to the mounting U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf with this warning: “I recommend and emphasize to the American [aircraft] carrier not to return to the Persian Gulf… we are not in the habit of warning more than once.”

USA to the rescue– for now. (Photo: David Bohrer)

Yesterday, the same carrier group that Gen. Salehi warned rescued 13 Iranian fishermen kidnapped by Somali pirates more than a month ago.

Reuters reports that the rescue operation involved forces aboard the USS John C. Stennis carrier strike group. The Americans received a distress call from the Iranian-flagged Al Molai, a fishing boat, whose master said he and his crew were being held hostage by pirates.

“The Al Molai had been taken over by pirates for roughly the last 40-45 days,” Josh Schminky, a Navy criminal investigative service agent aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd, said in a statement.

“They were held hostage, with limited rations, and we believe were forced against their will to assist the pirates with other piracy operations,” he added.

The US Navy says the Al Molai was being used by Somali pirates as a “mother ship” from which operations were launched. The crew of 15 pirates is being held aboard the John C. Stennis. 

The State Department said that it hadn’t officially communicated with Iran, with whom the U.S. has no formal diplomatic relations, abou the rescue operation but that it was carried out as a “humanitarian gesture.”

Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokeswoman, said that the U.S. was considering how best to prosecute the pirates.

“We’re consulting with international partners. You know, sadly, this is not a new thing. We have more than 1,000 pirates who’ve been picked up at sea who are under prosecution in some 20 countries. So this is always a question of where to send them and who will do the prosecution,” she said.

The freed Iranians, who are now on their way home, thanked their American rescuers.

“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,” Schminky told Reuters.

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