updated 1/4/2009 4:40:41 PM ET 2009-01-04T21:40:41

A French navy vessel thwarted two attacks Sunday on cargo ships by heavily armed Somali pirates in the dangerous Gulf of Aden and captured the 19 pirates, just three days after a similar rescue by French forces, the government said.

The Defense Ministry said that 11 assault rifles, two rockets and two rocket launchers were confiscated from pirates traveling in three boats, along with a boarding ladder and 1,000 liters (264 gallons) of fuel.

The Jean de Vienne, patrolling southwest of the Yemeni port of Al Mukallah, moved into action after receiving two separate distress calls, one from a Croatian cargo ship, the Donat, and another from a Panamanian cargo ship, the Vulturnus, a Defense Ministry statement said.

Two boats were intercepted as 10 pirates tried to board the Donat, the statement said. With help from a Spanish patrol plane, the French frigate "interrupted" a second bid by 9 pirates trying to take over the Panamanian cargo ship.

The 19 pirates being held on the Jean de Vienne were to be turned over to Somali authorities as soon as possible, according to the Defense Ministry.

On Thursday, a French warship intercepted eight pirates in two speedboats as they tried to take over another Panamanian ship in the Gulf of Aden.

The French patrols are part of a flotilla of European Union ships trying to fend off increasingly bold pirates from Somalia, a nation whose weak government has allowed piracy to flourish in one of the world's most important sea routes. About a half-dozen attacks by pirates have been reported since the start of the year, most fended off or thwarted.

On Thursday, Somali pirates seized an Egyptian cargo ship and its 28 crew members, bringing to 15 the number of vessels still in the hands of pirates, along with more than 260 crew members, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

In 2008, pirates attacked 111 ships in the Gulf of Aden, hijacking 42 of them and receiving tens of millions of dollars in ransoms.

President Nicolas Sarkozy's office, hailing the recent French successes, called for even greater international mobilization "to eradicate this plague," Sunday's statement said.

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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