NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Some thought it would never happen: The U.S. military raiding a foreign ship hijacked by Somali pirates.
In the wee hours this Thursday morning, it did.
The U.S. Navy said 24 Marines took control of a German merchant vessel, the M/V Magellan Star, captured by pirates in the Gulf of Aden a day earlier. Nine men were taken into custody.
There were no injuries -- of crew, marines or pirates -- and injuries are precisely what has dissuaded the military from boarding hijacked ships in the past. According to the prevailing wisdom, to send a squad of heavily armed soldiers storming onto a vessel filled with heavily armed Somalis was to invite a gory climax, endangering the lives of merchant seafarers by catching them within a close-quarters shoot out.
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But that's not what played out Thursday. A spokesman for the U.S. Navy told
The Wall Street Journal
that the decision to take back the ship, and the later success of the operation, didn't mean the navy had changed its policy. It was a matter of circumstance, the spokesman said. Conditions were right for a counterattack. For one thing, the Magellan's crew members reportedly locked themselves inside a safe room aboard ship in a counter-piracy move that has become increasingly common.
"This is a case of us having the right people, with the right capabilities at the right place and at the right time," was all that the naval spokesman would say.
James Christodoulou, the former CEO of a
small merchant shipping company that had a vessel hijacked
last year, has become a vocal public figure when it comes to methods of preventing piracy and safeguarding crews. "Hopefully this action will send a strong signal to the pirates that they are no longer safe and can no longer act with impunity," Christodoulou said in an email Thursday. "Hopefully the conditions that enabled the rescue -- which, first and foremost, I'm sure, were to assure the safety of the crew -- will be in place in the future."
warships of some 20 of the world's navies
now patrol the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea as part of several task forces, including one created by the U.S. Until now, though, naval authorities have been mostly content to dispatch helicopters in the direction of ships under attack by pirates, in an attempt to disrupt their boarding or scare them off. Naval patrols have arrested hundreds if not thousands of suspected pirates since last year, but often the task forces release the captured men because legal jurisdictions remain a hazy matter at sea. It doesn't help that
Somalia itself is a failed state
, though the government of Putland, a semi-autonomous region in the north of the country, has prosecuted and jailed pirates in the past.