Masked French commandos marched a band of barefoot, glum-looking pirate suspects down the gangplank of a naval frigate Wednesday in the Kenyan port of Mombasa before turning the 11 Somalis over to Kenyan authorities.
French officials say the suspects will be tried for an April 14 attack on the Liberian cargo ship Safmarine Asia.
The pirates, who did not smile or speak to reporters as they left the French warship Nivose, appeared to range from in age from 20 to 40. Few wore shoes. They were not handcuffed or shackled and were rushed from the ship into a waiting Kenyan police van.
French officials also handed over the pirates' equipment: two skiffs, three grappling hooks, four rusty assault rifles, two bags of bullets and a ladder.
The three French commandos wore black balaclavas to conceal their identities.
The French frigate Nivose is serving in the international fleet trying to protect the 20,000 ships that pass annually through the Gulf of Aden, the waterway that links Europe with Asia.
The captain of the Nivose, Jean Marc LeQuilliec, said sailors pursued the pirates in a dramatic nighttime chase and caught them in the early raid.
"They were preparing breakfast but they were not prepared for such an attack," he said.
Pirates who have attacked French citizens are taken to France for trial, while others are taken to court in Mombasa. Antti Lehmusjarvi, the legal adviser to the EU's anti-piracy force, said he thought the trials would go smoothly.
"I met the Kenyan prosecutor yesterday and he was quite happy with the amount of evidence and technical support we have prepared in the last two cases," he said, referring to other pirates who had been turned in for trial.
Several trials are currently taking place in Kenya involving pirate suspects handed over by Britain and Germany.
Somalia's nearly 20 years of lawlessness has fueled piracy's rise. Attacks at sea nearly doubled in the first three months of 2009, mainly because of increased pirate raids in the Gulf of Aden and the east coast of Somalia.
In New York, the sole pirate who survived the U.S. Navy's rescue of an American cargo ship wept in court Tuesday as a dispute broke out over whether he was a juvenile or an adult.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew J. Peck ordered the hearing on Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse, reported to be between 15 and 18 years old, closed to the public.
Prosecutors said Muse was the first to board the Maersk Alabama, fired a shot at the captain, helped steal $30,000 in cash from a safe and bragged about hijacking ships in the past. He was assigned two federal defense lawyers.
"I understand. I don't have any money," Muse said through an interpreter.
His defense lawyers portrayed Muse as a frightened kid who should be given greater protections under international law because of his age.
In Singapore, freight shippers warned Wednesday that Somali pirates are stepping up more sophisticated and well-armed attacks on vessels in the Gulf of Aden, and urged governments to back a bigger and better-coordinated military response.
"Pirates can now afford the latest automatic weapons, navigation aids and communications," said Wang Cheng, secretary general of the Asian Shipowners Forum, whose members account for about half of the world's merchant fleet. "The situation is much more serious this year."
"We like to see more navy ships, but it hasn't seemed to deter attacks," said Steffen Tunge, managing director of 14 ships for Singapore-based B+H Equimar. "This is extremely frustrating and scary for us."
Tunge said sailors on his boats have propped up mannequins in military fatigues and fake guns on the side of ships to trick approaching pirates.
Belgium reported that a Belgian dredger captured days ago in the Indian Ocean anchored off the Somali coast Wednesday, and its captain said the Pompei's 10-man crew was safe. The Belgian government sent a team of experts to the area to speed the release of the ship.