updated 12/25/2008 10:20:54 AM ET 2008-12-25T15:20:54

CAIRO, Egypt —A German military helicopter chased away pirates who were trying to board an Egyptian ship Thursday off the coast of Somalia. One of the ship's crew was shot in the attack.

The bulk carrier with 31 crew was passing through the Gulf of Aden on its way to Asia when gun-toting pirates in a speedboat began pursuing it, said Noel Choong of the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center.

A passing ship alerted the Kuala Lumpur-based bureau, which asked a multinational naval coalition force in the area to help, said Choong.

In response, the German navy frigate Karlsruhe dispatched a helicopter, a military spokesman said on condition of anonymity, citing policy.

The pirates fled as the chopper reached the vessel, according to a statement from the German military, but not before shooting and injuring one the ship's crew.

A second helicopter, carrying a medical team, retrieved the injured crewmember, who is now receiving treatment on the Karlsruhe, the statement said.

Increasing problem
After the attack, the vessel, the Wadi al-Arab, continued on its way to South Korea, where it was delivering a shipment of wheat from Ukraine, said Egyptian Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmed Rizq.

Piracy has taken an increasing toll on international shipping this year, especially in the Gulf of Aden — one of the world's busiest sea lanes. Spurred by widespread poverty in their homeland, Somali pirates have made an estimated $30 million hijacking ships for ransom this year.

More than a dozen warships are now patrolling the vast gulf. Countries as diverse as Britain, India, Iran, America, France and Germany have naval forces in the waters or on their way there.

"Despite increased naval patrols, pirates are continuing to attack ships because the warships cannot be everywhere at the same time. But we are pleased with the quick assistance by the coalition force," Choong said.

Choong said there have been 110 pirate attacks this year in the Gulf of Aden, including 42 hijackings. Most were released after a ransom was paid, though 14 — with more than 240 crew — are still being held.

Another emergency
A second German frigate responded to another emergency call Thursday from a different ship in the gulf, the military said. The statement gave no other details on that incident.

Japan said Wednesday it is considering sending military ships to join the coalition. China is scheduled to send warships on Friday. In November, Cairo hosted a meeting of senior officials from Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Somalia, Sudan Yemen to coordinate efforts of their nations to combat piracy.

Somalia, a nation of about 8 million people, has not had a functioning government since warlords overthrew a dictator in 1991 and then turned on each other.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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