updated 4/21/2010 3:46:52 PM ET 2010-04-21T19:46:52

Pirates mistakenly tried to attack a French warship off the coast of Somalia and six were captured, a military spokesman said Wednesday.

Col. Patrick Steiger said the attackers fired eight rounds from automatic weapons at La Somme, a 3,800-ton French navy refueling ship — but missed.

Steiger said Wednesday that the attack early Tuesday in the middle of the night by suspected pirates in two skiffs occurred far off the Somalian coast.

The crew on La Somme fired three warning shots then pursued the attackers, discovering what appeared to be a mothership, with stocks of fuel and 2 suspected pirates on board.

With the warning shots, "the two skiffs understood they had made a mistake and fled in two different directions," Steiger said by telephone.

The two were taken into custody and one skiff with four pirates was caught in a chase. Besides their weapons, grappling hooks to climb aboard boats were found.

It was not the first time La Somme has come under attack by suspected pirates. On Oct. 7, the warship was mistaken for a civilian vessel, and five suspects were caught.

La Somme visits the waters off Somalia regularly to refuel vessels in the European Union's Operation Atalante that combats Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden and elsewhere. As a refueling vessel, it has a less aggressive aspect than a frigate, especially in the middle of the night, and could be mistaken for a commercial or other civilian vessel, Steiger said.

France is a key member of the mission, aggressively tracking and delivering pirates to Somalia or for trial in Kenya. France has brought 15 suspects to Paris for prosecution for allegedly seizing boats belonging to French nationals.

La Somme was awaiting orders on what to do with the six suspects just captured.

Last month, the French navy seized 35 pirates in three days, a record for the EU's piracy-fighting operation.

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