ABOARD THE USS KITTY HAWK — Sailors from the USS Gary rescued eight Iraqi fishermen from their sinking boat Thursday night in the southern Persian Gulf.

The Gary, a guided missile frigate based in Yokosuka, Japan, responded to a Mayday call shortly before 6 p.m., said Capt. Mike Mahon, commodore of Destroyer Squadron 15.

The Gary was about 22 miles from the 90-foot-long ship when it received the distress call, saying the fishing vessel was taking on water and in danger of sinking.

“It was clearly a general mayday, they were pretty desperate,” Mahon said.

The Gary initially sent a helicopter, which found the boat foundering in seas with winds of between 25 knots and 30 knots. But the helicopter couldn't start a rescue because the boat's small size gave the aircrew no place to work from, Mahon said.

When the Gary got closer, it sent sailors in a small inflatable boat to the stricken vessel. Mahon said between four and six armed sailors usually man such boats. The vessel was in the process of capsizing when the Gary's sailors reached the ship, Mahon said.

As sailors were taking people off the boat, it sank. The last fisherman was pulled from the water around 10 p.m.

The Iraqis were searched and taken aboard the Gary, where they will be held in isolation and under observation, but probably not locked up, Mahon said. They were sleeping on cots in a classroom on the ship.

None of the Gary’s 250 crewmembers speaks Arabic, Mahon said. But as the Iraqi vessel was in international waters, its captain should speak English, he said. The sunken boat’s captain requested he and his crew be returned to Iraq, Mahon said.

It wasn’t known how long the Iraqis would remain on the Gary.

It may take a couple of days, Mahon said, because Friday is an Iraqi holiday.

A process to do so was not clear, but would probably involve sending the men to a third country, which would then return them to Iraq.

The Gary, which left Japan in January, is attached to coalition forces escorting merchant vessels in the Gulf. It is normally part of the Kitty Hawk’s battle group, but is not part of the build up against Iraq.

It is currently tasked with escorting merchant ships through the Strait of Hormuz.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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