NAIROBI, Kenya — Pirates in two skiffs fired rocket-propelled grenades and guns at an oil tanker off East Africa before boarding the vessel and hijacking it, naval officials said Monday.
The United Arab Emirates-flagged Zirku was traveling from Sudan to Singapore when it was hijacked by pirates in the Gulf of Aden on Monday, the EU Naval Force said. The ship has a crew of 29. There was no information on their status.
Previous oil tankers hijacked by pirates were carrying oil valued in the range of $150 million. There was no immediate information released on how many barrels of oil the tanker was carrying.
India's navy and coast guard, meanwhile, captured 16 Somali pirates after a three-hour-long battle in the Arabian Sea, a navy spokesman said Monday.
Also, 16 crew members who had been taken hostage by the pirates were rescued from the hijacked Iranian trawler off India's western Lakshadweep islands on Sunday, Captain Manohar Nambiar said.
The pirates were using the trawler as a roving pirate base to launch attacks on passing vessels in the Indian Ocean, he said.
The pirates were trying to seize a merchant ship, MV Maersk Kensington, when a coast guard vessel and an Indian naval ship picked up its distress signals and went to its aid.
The pirates opened fire at the coast guard ship as it drew near, triggering a battle during which the pirate trawler caught fire. The pirates and the hostages, picked up from the sea by the navy ship, were headed for Mumbai.
Of the 16 hostages, 12 are Iranians and four are Pakistanis, the navy spokesman said.
"The pirates will be handed over to the Mumbai police for prosecution. The crew members will be questioned to establish their credentials and then handed over to their embassy officials," Nambiar said.
The Indian navy has seized around 120 pirates, mostly from Somalia, over the past few months. Two weeks ago, the navy captured 61 pirates when they attacked a naval ship.
Indian warships have been escorting merchant ships as part of international anti-piracy surveillance in the Indian Ocean area since 2008.
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