The 9,000-Ton Littoral Warship

A year after Somali piracy peaked with more than 100 ships attacked, the world’s navies have assembled dozens of warships to combat the threat. David Axe joins the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Donald Cook in Djibouti, to observe firsthand this “global war on piracy.”



The Navy’s shipbuilding strategy hinges on buying at least 55 copies of the 3,000-ton Littoral Combat Ship, a vessel supposedly optimized for near-shore warfare, with a shallow draft and improved maneuverability.

But the Navy’s not waiting around for the delayed and over-budget LCS. USS Donald Cook, a 9,000-ton Burke-class destroyer designed for open-ocean combat, braved outdated charts and her fairly deep draft to perform her own littoral combat mission in recent weeks, when she patrolled just a mile and a half from Somali pirate camps soon after deploying to East Africa this summer.

In nautical terms, a mile is pretty damn close. In pushing so close to the pirate camps, “DC” Captain Derek Granger hoped to send a clear message to potential sea bandits. “If they’re sitting on the beach, wondering if they should make an, ahem, sojourn, and they see the Donald Cook … they may rethink.”

DC took the opportunity to gather intel for her NATO commodore. “My crew loved it,” Granger says. “In there close, providing video and photographic info back to the boss … it’s useful.”

During her near-shore patrol, DC sent out two boarding teams to investigate suspect skiffs. Turned out they were both legit fishing boats. But Granger didn’t know that when he ordered his people to travel a mile away in Rigid-Hull Inflatable Boats — too far for DC to provide quick support. That, and not the shallow water, was the most stressful thing, Granger says.

(Photo: David Axe)