ABOARD USS DONALD COOK -- It was a rare moment of excitement on a long, tedious counter-piracy patrol. On the evening of Sept. 24, lookouts on the USS Donald Cook, a Virginia-based destroyer assigned to a NATO flotilla in the Gulf of Aden, spotted a mysterious shape on the horizon. The distant vessel did not respond to Donald Cook's hails as it loomed closer.
With the cry, "Ship of interest," crew members summoned Donald Cook's captain, Derek Granger. Interrupted during a rare bit of down-time, Granger climbed to the bridge wearing shorts and a t-shirt. Lighting his customary cigar, he joined lookouts on the port bridge wing -- a sort of outdoor deck attached to the ship's side -- and scrutinized the approaching vessel through binoculars.
Capt. Derek Granger and a crew member of the USS Donald Cook watch
an Iranian tanker pass by, Gulf of Aden, Sept. 24, 2009 (David Axe).
Soon the mystery ship's features were evident: a long hull, blocky superstructure, tall vertical posts and an aft flight deck on which was lashed a blue-and-white painted Sea King helicopter. The Americans consulted with a ship recognition guide, just to be safe, but it was plain to see: The vessel was an Iranian naval supply ship -- one of at least four warships deployed by Tehran to the pirate-infested waters.