Saturday, January 14, 2012

Rescuing Iranian Seaman -Why Not?

Last week the crew of the Navy destroyer USS Kidd rescued an Iranian fishing boat from pirates, taking the hijackers into custody at a time when Iranian naval commanders have threatened that American warships should never again return to the Persian Gulf. A few days later several more Iranian fishermen were rescued by another US Naval vessel after puttng out a distress call.

According to a Navy announcement, an SH-60S Seahawk helicopter from the destroyer USS Kidd spotted a suspicious-looking skiff alongside the Iranian dhow Al Molai in the Arabian Sea. When the dhow’s crew saw the helicopter, it radioed a distress call reporting it had been hijacked. The Kidd responded and its boarding party took control of the Al Molai and arrested 15 men. No one was hurt.

"The Al Molai had been taken over by pirates for roughly the last 40-45 days," said Josh Schminky, an NCIS (Navy Criminal Investigative Service) agent aboard the Kidd, in the Navy’s announcement. "They were held hostage, with limited rations, and we believe were forced against their will to assist the pirates with other piracy operations."

The pirate suspects were transferred to the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis, a much larger warship with more room to accommodate prisoners in its brig. The Navy said the men would be held for now while commanders decide what to do next. The Navy often captures and then releases pirates when it nabs them off the Horn of Africa, to avoid the complexity and confusion of a trial (read that "political interference"), but it wasn’t immediately clear what would become of the Al Molai hijackers.

Expressing their gatitude for our assistance, Iran Brig. Gen. Ataollah Salehi had said the carrier should not return to the Persian Gulf, underscoring the threat with an ominous, “We don't have the intention of repeating our warning, and we warn only once." (yes, I am being sarcastic)

As for the dhow’s Iranian crew, it took a very different tone: "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," said Schminky, according to the Navy.

The U.S. dismissed Iran’s saber-rattling. Defense Department spokesman George Little said that the U.S. is in the Gulf to maintain security and stability in the region, and to guarantee its waterways are open to international commerce.

Actually, the only comment on the rescue by the Iranians was one in which the official said simply that the action was "what is expected, nothing more". With that kind of attitude, it is no wonder that several of my friends have asked "Why do we bother? Why not leave the Iranians to get themselves out of trouble?" The answer is simple. You do not leave sailors in trouble at sea without doing everything possible to help. Politics has no place when it comes to helping people in trouble on the water. So, in some respects, the Iranian official was right. We simply did what was expected -but the decent things would have been an acknowledgement and a thank you. Of course, that is not something you should expect from the Iranian regeme.

The next question, of course, is should we have returned the boats and sailors to the Iranians? Personally, I think that would have been a good point to play a little political hardball and required reembursement for the costs of the rescues. I know that is not something normally done but if the Iranians want to play politics, lets play....

Live Long and Prosper....

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