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U.S. warship can't stop pirates off Somalia

Story Highlights

• U.S. warship encountered cargo vessel after pirates had seized it
• Reuters: Navy spokeswoman says U.S. gunfire destroyed pirates' boats
• Pirates took vessel into Somali waters; U.S. warship could not follow
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A U.S. Navy warship fired shots at pirates who had hijacked a Danish-flagged cargo ship off the coast of Somalia but was unsuccessful in blocking the piracy, according to Navy officials.

Saturday's incident underscores growing U.S. military involvement in the Horn of Africa, not just against suspected al Qaeda targets but also against an increasingly violent pirate trade waters off Somalia's coast.

According to U.S. military sources, the dock landing ship USS Carter Hall had been on patrol in international waters in the area when it encountered the MV Danica White cargo ship. Pirates were in control of the bridge and had taken the crew hostage.

The Carter Hall crew fired machine gun bursts, first as warning shots and then disabling shots.

"She fired several warning shots and fired disabling shots at three skiffs [small boats] in tow behind the White and pretty much destroyed the skiffs," Lt. Denise Garcia of the U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet told Reuters news service. Pirates used the skiffs to board the cargo ship, she said.

But the pirates were able to sail the ship into Somali waters where the U.S. warship would not follow them.

The U.S. Navy has warned commercial shipping of the increased piracy threat in recent days. On May 20, the Navy issued a maritime advisory notice, warning all cargo shipping to remain at least 200 miles off Somalia.

The shooting incident came one day after another U.S. Navy warship fired its five-inch guns at suspected al Qaeda members on the Somali coastline. (Full story)

On Saturday, pirates who took over a Taiwanese fishing boat off Somalia killed one of its crew, Kenyan maritime officials reported, according to Reuters.

The ship, the Ching Fong Hwa 168, has been held since mid-May and had a crew of 16 aboard, Reuters said.

The pirates "want a ransom and have said they'll kill another crew member if the ship owner doesn't pay," Andrew Mwangura, director of the Kenyan-based East African Seafarers Assistance Program, told Reuters.

Authorities found out about the killing when the pirates allowed a captive to call home, according to a Voice of America report from Kenya.

In March 2006, two U.S. Navy warships engaged pirates off Somalia, killing one and wounding five in a gunbattle.

In November 2005, pirates attacked a luxury cruise liner with rocket-propelled grenades. No one on the cruise ship was injured, and its captain managed to guide the vessel out of danger.

CNN's Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

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The USS Carter Hall, a dock landing ship, fired on Somali pirates but could not stop their seizure of a Danish cargo ship.

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