The Indian navy captured 23 pirates who threatened a merchant vessel in the lawless waters of the Gulf of Aden and a German naval helicopter thwarted another attack Saturday on a freighter being chased by speedboats off Yemen.
The successes came days before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was to ask the United Nations to authorize "all necessary measures" against increasingly bold Somalian pirates operating in one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.
An Indian navy ship, the INS Mysore, was escorting merchant ships in waters off Somalia's coast Saturday when it received a distress call from seamen on board the MV Gibe, who said they were being fired on by two boats that were approaching fast.
The Mysore and its helicopter sped to the scene, and the pirate boats attempted to escape when they saw them, according to a statement from the Indian government.
Indian marine commandoes boarded the pirate boats and seized "a substantial cache of arms and equipment," including seven AK-47 assault rifles, three machine guns, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and other weapons, the statement said. They also found a GPS receiver and other equipment.
The pirates were from Somalia and Yemen, two countries on the coast of the Gulf of Aden. The Gibe was flying an Ethiopian flag but little else was known about it, the Indian statement said.
Thai trawler sunk by mistake
Last month, India's navy drew criticism after sinking a Thai fishing trawler that had been commandeered hours earlier by pirates. At least one Thai crew member was killed in the attack, which the Indian navy had originally announced by saying it had sunk a pirate "mother ship." The Indian navy defended its actions, saying it had fired in self-defense.
Somali pirates have become increasingly brazen and recently seized a Saudi supertanker loaded with $100 million of crude oil. Many of the vessels are taken to pirate-controlled regions in Somalia, where they are held for ransom.
It was not immediately clear what would happen to the pirates captured by the Indians, or where they would be taken. The statement said only that the prisoners and their weapons would be "handed over to appropriate authorities ashore."
Most foreign navies patrolling the Somali coast have been reluctant to detain suspects because of uncertainties over where they would face trial, since Somalia has no effective central government or legal system.
Also on Saturday, a German military spokesman said a navy frigate had chased away pirates in speedboats pursuing an Ethiopian freighter off the coast of Yemen.
The German frigate responded to a distress call from the freighter, and a helicopter took off from the deck to investigate. The pirates turned away from the freighter as the helicopter flew overhead, said the spokesman, who declined to give his name in line with military policy.
U.N. to consider piracy measure
An estimated 1,500 pirates are based in Somalia's semiautonomous Puntland region, raking in millions of dollars.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will present a draft Security Council resolution next week asking the United Nations to authorize "all necessary measures" against piracy from Somalia.
However, the commander of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet expressed doubt Friday about the wisdom of launching attacks against Somali pirates on land, as the draft proposes.
U.S. Vice Adm. Bill Gortney told reporters that it is difficult to identify pirates, and the potential for killing innocent civilians "cannot be overestimated."
The threat of pirates recently prompted a German cruise ship to evacuate some 420 passengers and crew after the company decided not to risk their safety as the ship passed through the Gulf of Aden.
The passengers and crew have rejoined the M/S Columbus — which is on a six-month round-the-world trip — in Oman's port of Salalah after three days in Dubai, Hamburg-based cruise operator Hapag-Lloyd said Saturday.
The ship and a limited crew made it through the gulf without incident, a company spokeswoman said.