by DAVID AXE
The blue-painted fishing dhow with the suspicious hooks on its railings appeared as a low, curved shape on the destroyer USS Donald Cook‘s high-powered security cameras.
It was a day in mid-September, three months into the Virginia-based warship’s deployment to the Gulf of Aden as part of a five-ship NATO counterpiracy task force. With hijackings declining across East African waters, Donald Cook‘s 250 crew had had little to do on most days. The appearance of the dhow and, on it, what looked like grappling hooks useful for boarding large vessels, raised the prospect of a much-anticipated encounter with pirates.
A voice on Donald Cook‘s ship-wide address system alerted the scattered members of the warship’s Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) team to grab their gear and weapons, and race to the deck. There, the sailors muscled a small, rigid-hull inflatable boat into the water. The VBSS team, led by Lt. j.g. Christopher Bowie, climbed in and sped towards the dhow, rifles trained on its occupants.
Boarding teams man the front lines of the war against piracy. When one of the roughly 40 international warships currently deployed to East African waters encounters a pirate boat, more often than not it’s the warship’s VBSS team that’s tasked to apprehend the boat’s crew. “It’s basically the nautical equivalent of having boots on the ground,” Capt. Derek Granger, Donald Cook‘s commanding officer, said during World Politics Review‘s four-day embarkment on the 9,000-ton warship. “You’ve got to have guys up there that can conduct those inspections and provide intelligence back to the ship of what they see from 10 feet, as opposed to a thousand yards away.”