Image: Ship that was hijacked
Rafael Ferreira Viva  /  AP
The Adriana, shown in 2005, was hijacked on Saturday northwest of the Seychelles islands about 1,000 miles from NATO's operating area.
updated 5/3/2009 10:24:32 AM ET 2009-05-03T14:24:32

A French naval vessel intercepted 11 suspected pirates traveling off the Somali coast on Sunday in two assault vessels and a so-called mothership loaded with Kalashnikovs and rocket launchers, the French Defense Ministry said.

It was the French ship's third pirate intervention in a month. France has been the most aggressive in pursuing pirates out of more than a dozen nations patrolling shipping routes in the Gulf of Aden.

Another three suspected pirates were detained Saturday by the Seychelles coast guard, which had been alerted by the French warship Nivose after European officials decided there was not enough evidence to hold them.

French Defense Ministry spokesman Christophe Prazuck said the 11 new suspects were intercepted Sunday morning about 560 miles off Somalia's coast. They had been traveling with a pirate mothership — a larger vessel often used to tow speed boats hundreds of miles out to sea and resupply them in open water. Prazuck said it was still unclear what France would do with the new suspects.

Meanwhile, the three suspects arrested by the Seychelles coast guard vessel the Andromache were expected Sunday evening in port in the islands that depend heavily on tourism, according to Brigitte Ahshung at the Seychelles Broadcasting Corporation.

Prazuck said the three had previously been detained and interrogated by sailors aboard the Nivose, after being pulled off a 32-foot fishing boat loaded with 13 barrels of fuel, water and food but no weapons.

Last month, the Nivose delivered 11 suspected pirates to Kenya.

Pirates are now holding 17 ships and around 300 crew, including the Greek-owned cargo ship Ariana, hijacked early Saturday with a Ukrainian crew.

On Friday, a Portuguese warship seized explosives from suspected Somali pirates after thwarting an attack on an oil tanker, but later freed the 19 men. It was the first time NATO forces found pirates armed with raw explosives, spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Fernandes said.

The attack on the Ariana — about 1,000 miles from the sea corridor NATO guards — the seizure of explosives may indicate the pirates are adapting their tactics as crews become better trained in counter-piracy measures.

Explosives can also be used in illegal fishing.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Suspected pirates detained off Somali coast


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