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Iranian fishermen thank US rescuers

Political tensions between the US and Iran in and around the Persian Gulf gave way to photos of rescued fishermen happily wearing US Navy baseball caps after a dramatic rescue from the clutches of Somali pirates.

The grateful Iranian fishermen were rescued by a US Navy destroyer, more than 40 days after their boat was commandeered by suspected Somali pirates in the northern Arabian Sea.

The rescue came just days after Tehran had warned the US to keep its warships out of the Persian Gulf - an irony not lost on US officials who trumpeted the news.

"We think it's very doubtful that the Iranians or the pirates were aware of recent events of the last couple days," Rear Adm Craig Faller, commander of the US Navy Carrier Strike Group involved in the rescue, said.

"Once we released them (the fishermen) they went on their way very happily, I might add, waving to us wearing USS Kidd navy baseball caps."

Rear Adm Faller, speaking from the aircraft carrier USS John C Stennis in the Arabian Sea, said the fishermen, who had been living off the fish they could catch, expressed their thanks and were believed to be headed back to their home port in Iran.

The rescue was carried out by American forces flying off the guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd, after crew on the Iranian fishing vessel, the Al Molai, made it clear they were in trouble.

The USS Kidd, part of the Stennis carrier group, was sailing in the Arabian Sea, after leaving the Persian Gulf, when it came to the sailors' aid. It was alerted to the hostage situation when the captain of the fishing boat spoke by radio to the Americans in Urdu - a Pakistani dialect that he hoped the pirates near him would not understand - and managed to convey that he needed help.

A US Navy team helicoptered to the ship boarded without any resistance and detained 15 suspected Somali pirates. They had been holding the 13-member Iranian crew hostage and were using the boat as a "mother ship" for pirating operations in the Persian Gulf.

"They were scared," Jennifer Ellinger, commander of the USS Kidd, said of the Iranians. "They pleaded with us to come over and board their vessel, invited us to come over. And we reassured them that we would be on our way."

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