updated 4/27/2009 7:32:48 AM ET 2009-04-27T11:32:48

Yemeni coast guard forces have freed a hijacked Yemeni oil tanker and arrested 11 Somali pirates, the first time the country has successfully retaken a seized vessel, officials said Monday.

The coast guard exchanged gunfire with the pirates and took control of the oil tanker Qana on Sunday, a security official said.

The vessel had been hijacked earlier in the day while heading between the two southern Yemeni ports of Mukalla and Aden. The security official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

Yemen, an impoverished country on the southwestern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, is across the treacherous Gulf of Aden from Somalia, on the Horn of Africa. It's the first time Yemen's forces have successfully battled a hijacking since piracy began to surge in the Gulf of Aden a year ago.

A strengthened international naval force has been patrolling the waters since the beginning of this year.

More than 100 hijackings
Pirates have hijacked more than 100 ships off the Somali coast over the last year, including one in a dramatic standoff between pirates and the U.S. Navy earlier this month. The Gulf of Aden is one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

The Yemeni oil tanker seized Sunday was not carrying any crude at the time of the attack, said the head of the company that owns the vessel, Mohammed Abdul-Rahman.

The ship was among four vessels under escort by a Yemeni coast guard boat at the time. The three other vessels escaped the attack.

Elsewhere in the region, Somali pirates on Sunday released an oil tanker seized four months ago and allowed it to sail to a Somali port.

The 16-man crew is safe, said Deepak Bhandari, chief executive of Seaprime Marine Management in Mumbai, India, which manages the vessel.

The Sea Princess II is now docked in the port of Bosasso, he said. It was hijacked on Jan. 2 as it was sailing through the Gulf of Aden.

It's unclear when the vessel will be allowed to leave Somalia. Bhandari says he does not know whether the ship's Yemen-based owner agreed to pay a ransom for the release of the tanker.

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