There is an old saw in street fighting, never bring a knife to a gun fight.
And so it was with a particular group of rather poorly educated pirates who ran afoul of two large and heavily armed US warships off the coast of Somalia…
You see the pirates in question had missed a key educational course, enemy ship identification, given every Thursday evening at the yacht club by the local al Qaeda representative, where they kept their 30-foot converted fishing boat, employed five or six days a week for piratical expeditions. The boat had been upgraded with the addition of a beer cooler, a small compass stolen from a small boat they previously pillaged and a ship-to-shore radio they rigged up themselves. They also had a few walkie-talkies on an al-Qaeda frequency, a few pistols, and a handful of grenades--of which a few crewmembers were said to be excellent hurlers, though none were rumoured to be of professional calibre
The pirates, not completely fearing a run in with any one of the warships they had seen in magazines the al Qaeda representatives had provided for identification purposes, but believing that preparation is a key ingredient to a winning strategy, decided that they had better arm up the old scow for battle. So they began to gather AK-47 rifles, RPD machine guns, ammunition, and just in case they got into a slug fest with one of those dreaded American ships of the line, like the USS Cole, which Osama’s boys had knocked a hole in so easily, they grabbed a few rocket propelled grenades--to even the stakes--in the market place for a pretty good price, which had included a barter of a goat and some of their favourite chickens. Additional fresh eggs and goat cheese would come rolling in once the prizes and plunder farmed from the high seas were theirs to sell in the large stall they would soon acquire in the market place from their anticipated earnings.
To make sure they were operational, the boys even tested one of the weather beaten RPG’s on the old British tank which still sits half way out of the water near the old jetty, and were pleased when it both fired and detonated against the rusty rotten armour.
And so, like a motley crew of a Gilligan-esque load of swashbucklers, replete with the Somali version of 'Arrr, Jim,' - 'Arrr, Mohammed' - hollered above the sweet song of the stolen Evinrude 250 outboard motors, which echoed off the other dhows floating at their slips in the basin, they set to sea looking for fresh ships to seize.
Steeped in the classical view of pirates, they looked the part. The captain, Muhammed, wore an eye patch and brandished both a dirk and a Walther PP. Kareem, the first mate, sported a faded blue bandanna and wore a short sword in addition to his Tokarev 9mm pistol, just as Anwar carried an AK-54, wore dirty white clam diggers and a t-shirt with a large skull and bones emblazoned across the chest.
After a few hours and a few ridiculously easy pickings and captured boats, which they tied to the rear of their skiff, they set a course for home, happy with their lucrative lives of piracy, pillage and robbery. Although they would barter the gizmos, they planned to keep the lucre.
USS Cape St George launching missile
The first ship the near-sighted pirates blundered into was the USS Cape St. George (CG-71), a 567-foot-long guided missile cruiser which weighs in at about 9,600 tons with a full load. She is powered by two gas turbine engines and is capable of speeds in excess of 30 knots, enough to keep up with nuclear aircraft carriers, which she is designed to protect. She is armed with vertical launch systems for Standard missiles, Phalanx close-in weapons systems which fire 20mm depleted uranium shells at 5,000 a minute, two five inch rapid fire guns, Tomahawk cruise missiles, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, anti-submarine rocket propelled torpedoes and conventional torpedoes. She also carried two Sea Hawk helicopters for anti-submarine operations, search and rescue and as gunships, and is equipped with advanced sonar. The ship is manned by some 400 officers, sailors and Marines, with an armoury chock full of weapons.
The Aegis cruiser is designed to go toe-to-toe with anything afloat and submerged, and it’s ready to rock and roll with anything, anywhere, day or night, in any kind of weather, in the defence of the United States. It can track hundreds of targets in tens of thousands of cubic miles of space, above and below the water line.
The second warship the pirates chose to pick a fight with was the USS Gonzalez (DDG-66), a 505 foot long, 8,300 ton destroyer, which sports a crew of some 338. Like its bigger companion, it carries everything except the helicopters, the second five inch gun and the ASROC’s. It was a very capable sidekick to have on the high seas and was equipped with the same power plants and could manage the same speed and it, too, can keep up with the fast carriers.
USS Gonzales in action
Both ships are linked by joint tactical data relay systems and the Aegis system--the most advanced air/sea/land battle management system afloat in the world--as well as the sensors aboard aircraft and the other ships in the anti-piracy task force.
And sometime on that fateful afternoon, the pirates decided that they’d tow their string of valuable prizes around in the tactical area of operations of these two heavily armed warships, both designed to tackle the finest weapon systems designed by the Soviets, failing to note that these two ships might-- in case push came to shove, should the proverbial shoe drop, in case the multiple sensors on the two ships operate as they always do and spot their nefarious activities, should Allah not pick up the phone when summoned by the prayers of the sorely tested, should their innocent activities be construed as the hostile acts of simple pirates, should the ships choose to fight and not retreat as the cowardly Americans always do--beat them up, knock them around and blow them out of the water.
And as the small string of ships appeared on the radar screens, the ships rang General Quarters, the call 'Man your battle stations' was broadcast, the gong was sounded, the crews scrambled, helmets and body armour were donned, Marines assembled, water tight doors were dogged down, the radar directors began to illuminate the targets, the Phalanx systems and the five inch guns began tracking them, the various divisions called the bridge with their readiness status, small boats with teams of heavily armed boarders were readied, and an increased level of tension was noted on the bridge, in the CIC and throughout the ships, as they readied for battle.
Aboard the 30-foot pirate vessel a decided level of chaos reigned once the huge gray vessels hove into view. The pirates, believing their own propaganda, decided that they’d attack these battle ready ships of the line, which, they earnestly believed, would either blow up under their vicious assault or flee in terror from their savage attack. In any case, they would become martyrs, their attack would become a martyrdom operation, hundreds of Americans would die as a result of their popular and successful methods, their names would be written in blood in the burning pages of history and they would ascend directly into heaven.
Would not their mighty rocket propelled grenades destroy these huge vessels? Wouldn’t the fabled AK-47s, which had driven the Americans from Mogadishu and downed their helicopters, plink holes in the sides of these metallic monsters and sink them? Wouldn’t the precious rocket propelled grenades, which had destroyed so many American armoured vehicles in Iraq, set these devil ships ablaze like the Barbary pirates ignited wooden American sailing ships long ago? Won’t the Quran protect the iron bonds of holy piracy from these fire spitting steel automatons? Won’t the weather intervene and cast a pall of fog over the ocean and allow the survival of t