A U.S. Navy helicopter conducting surveillance off the coast of Somalia was fired upon Wednesday by pirates aboard a Taiwanese-flagged vessel, where some 30 crewmembers are being held hostage, according to U.S. Naval Forces Central Command.
The Somali pirates fired what appeared to be a large-caliber weapon at the U.S. Navy SH-60B but didn’t strike it, according to the Navy. No one was injured in the incident and the crew did not return fire, the Navy said.
The Taiwanese ship Win Far was seized April 6. Since then, it has been used as a "mother ship" for the launching of other pirate attacks, most notably against the U.S.-flagged Maersk Alabama a couple of days later, according to the Navy.
The helicopter was conducting a routine surveillance flight of the Win Far, which is anchored by Somali pirates south of Garacad, Somalia, according to the Navy.
The aircrew observed activity during the flight, but the helicopter was determined to be targeted only after a review of infrared radar video.
Lt. Nathan Christensen, a Bahrain-based spokesman for the Navy’s 5th Fleet told The Associated Press that Wednesday’s shooting marks the first time pirates shot at U.S. Navy helicopters conducting daily surveillance flights over areas where pirates anchor hijacked vessels and await ransom. Christensen said four other merchant ships and 105 crewmembers are currently being held by pirates near the Win Far.
Piracy has increased in the Gulf of Aden — a crucial shipping route in and out of the Suez Canal — and elsewhere off the coast of Somalia, fueling a more than doubling of pirate attacks in the first half of 2009, according to an international maritime watchdog.
Somalia has had no effective central government since 1991, and the country’s interim government is embroiled in a struggle with Islamist extremists with suspected al-Qaida links.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.