US Believes Somali Pirates Attacked Tanker; Missiles Were Fired From Yemen

USS Mason
USS Mason was completing the capture of the attackers on a tanker when the missiles were fired (USN Military Sealift Command file photo)

Published Nov 27, 2023 10:28 AM by The Maritime Executive


U.S. officials at the Pentagon provided additional details today on the events in the Gulf of Aden saying that initial indications are that Somali pirates attacked the product tanker Central Park yesterday. They are continuing to analyze the situation and determine if two ballistic missiles that landed near the USS Mason, which was responding to tanker's distress call, were targeting the U.S. warship.

“The missiles landed in the Gulf of Aden approximately ten nautical miles,” from the Mason and the Central Park, according to CENTCOM. They are reporting that two missiles “were fired from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen,” striking the water at approximately 0141 on November 27. In the follow-up, they said this was about one hour and forty minutes after the incident with the Central Park was completed.

The USS Mason, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, responded to the distress call placed from the tanker on Sunday. The U.S. vessel arrived in the region after transiting the Suez Canal on November 5. She is part of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group which was recently deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations as part of the U.S. efforts to ensure maritime security and stability in the Middle East region. The carrier and several of its escorts proceeded on transiting the Strait of Hormuz.

The Mason along with allied ships from the coalition counter-piracy task force deployed in the Gulf of Aden surrounded the Central Park (19,999 dwt), a Liberia-registered chemical tanker that was eastbound in the region carrying a cargo of phosphoric acid. The vessel reported that it was being boarded by five armed, unidentified individuals. 

CENTCOM reports that upon arrival, at a location approximately 30 nm off Yemen's southern coast in the Gulf of Aden according to security consultants Ambrey, the U.S. demanded the release of the vessel. Pentagon officials declined to confirm the other warships or aircraft involved, but media reports are that a Japanese destroyed assisted. Pentagon spokesperson Brigadier General Pat Ryder said that he understands that three PLA Navy (Chinese) ships were also in the vicinity but did not respond.

Confronted by the task force, the five armed intruders debarked the Central Park and attempted to flee in a small boat. The Mason’s Visit Board Search and Seizure team gave chase and fired warning shots at the intruders as they attempted to flee. They did not return the fire and eventually surrendered to the U.S. team.

Ryder said the five individuals are aboard the Mason and initial indications are that they are Somali, but that the assessment is continuing. Based on this determination, they will decide on the next steps.

The Mason’s team also boarded the Central Park and interviewing the crew they reported the incident was similar to other acts of piracy. The tanker’s crew retreated to the vessel’s secure citadel when the ship was being boarded. The pirates attempted to access the crew cabin as well as to take control of the vessel. They were still aboard the Central Park and attempting to take control when the Mason arrived.

Boarding the tanker, the U.S. Navy personnel confirmed that the ship had been cleared and released the crew. They determined that the crew and vessel were unharmed and the Central Park, the Pentagon reports, is back underway.

As the Mason was concluding its response to the Central Park, they were also tracking the two missiles launched from Yemen. No attempt was made to shoot down the missiles, which the Pentagon says landed harmlessly in the ocean. However, they are still analyzing the incident.

“Maritime domain security is essential to regional stability,” said Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla, USCENTCOM commander in a prepared statement. “We will continue to work with allies and partners to ensure the safety and security of international shipping lanes.”

Initial fears were because the tanker is managed, and likely indirectly owned, by Israeli shipping magnate Eyal Ofer's ship management company, London-based Zodiac Maritime, that this was another attack by the Houthis on Israeli shipping interest. The company in a written statement thanked the task force for its actions. They confirmed that the crew and vessel were unharmed while repeating denials that Ofer Global owns the Central Park.