Dutch capture suspected pirates off Somali coast
Commandos from the Dutch navy frigate The Seven Provinces have arrested seven pirates in the Gulf of Aden
THE HAGUE- The Dutch navy captured seven suspected Somali pirates and freed 20 captives in the strategic Gulf of Aden shipping lane on Saturday, Dutch and NATO authorities said.
"This morning we intercepted a request for assistance from a Greek-owned ship from the Marshall Islands, the Handytankers Magic, that had fallen victim to a pirate attack," Liuetenant Commander Alexandre Fernandes told AFP from aboard the Portuguese frigate Corte Real, which is under the NATO flag.
"We immediately dispatched a Dutch NATO ship," which found a fishing vessel at the scene with seven suspected pirates and 20 hostages on board.
"The suspected pirates were identified and disarmed. The 20 captives were released."
NATO spokesman Commander Chris Davies said pirates appear to have targeted the tanker Saturday from a fishing vessel with 20 fishermen on board, but the attack was thwarted.
"Then the NATO Dutch frigate arrived as part of a NATO operation," he told AFP. "The Dutch pursued the pirates to the mothership and captured them."
He confirmed that seven pirates were captured and the fishermen released.
The marines found weapons and "evidence of other pirate paraphernalia", added Davies.
The dhow is believed to have been captured by pirates last Thursday, according to Fernandes.
The Dutch frigate was part of a NATO patrol mission in the Gulf of Aden, the scene of multiple pirate attacks in recent months.
Dutch defence ministry spokesman Otto Beeksma said Dutch marines had boarded a fishing vessel suspected of having been taken over by Somali pirates in an operation that started shortly after noon, Dutch time.
He could not confirm that arrests had been carried out or captives freed, saying "the ship is still being investigated."
Fernandes told Sky News television the 20 fishermen were Yemeni.
But he said the captured pirates would have to be freed.
"NATO does not have a detain policy, a national policy will apply and under these circumstances, the Dutch law cannot prosecute," he said.
Somali pirates attacked more than 130 merchant ships in the Gulf of Aden last year, an increase of more than 200 percent on 2007, according to the International Maritime Bureau which tracks piracy and shipping security issues.
Heavily armed pirates operate high-powered speed boats and sometimes hold ships for weeks before releasing them for large ransoms paid by governments or ship owners.
Dutch authorities already have five Somali pirates in custody awaiting trial in what would be the first such prosecution in the Netherlands.
The men, whose ages are believed to range from 24 to 38, were intercepted in the Gulf of Aden as they allegedly attacked a Dutch cargo ship in January.
They risk up to nine years in jail if found guilty, and their leader up to 12 years.
More than 150 suspected pirates were arrested by naval patrols in the Gulf in 2008.
In another incident Saturday a Belgian ship sent a distress signal in pirate-infested waters off east Africa, authorities said in Brussels, adding that contact had since been lost with the vessel.
Benoit Ramacker, spokesman for the Belgian government's crisis centre, said the Pompei, with a crew of two Belgians and a number of other nationalities, had transmitted an alarm at 0430 GMT, followed by another half-an-hour later.
The double alert is a standard practice linked to anti-terrorism measures, according to the crisis centre.
Ramacker said that senior government and shipping officials had convened an emergency meeting in Brussels.
Belgian broadcasting media reported earlier that a Belgian dredger with a crew of two Belgians and several Dutch sailors had been victim of an act of piracy off Somalia.