NATO forces foil pirate attack on Norwegian tanker

ON BOARD NRB CORTE-REAL Sun Apr 19, 2009 5:10am EDT

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ON BOARD NRB CORTE-REAL (Reuters) - NATO forces foiled an attack by Somali pirates on a Norwegian tanker then briefly detained seven gunmen after hunting them down under cover of darkness, NATO officials said on Sunday.

A spokesman aboard a Canadian warship, the Winnipeg, told Reuters that it responded after pirates armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades tried to board the 80,000-tonne MV Front Ardenne late on Saturday.

Winnipeg public affairs officer Michael McWhinnie said the pirates fled, throwing their weapons off their small skiff. But the Canadian warship pursued them for hours through the night, switching off all its lights to hunt them in the dark.

"We blocked their path. We were faster and surprisingly more maneuverable than the pirate skiff," McWhinnie said by phone from the Winnipeg to the Corte-Real, a Portuguese warship in the area. Both vessels are on a NATO anti-piracy mission.

Somali sea gangs have captured dozens of ships, taken hundreds of sailors prisoner and made off with tens of millions of dollars in ransoms despite an unprecedented deployment by foreign navies in waters off the Horn of Africa.

On Saturday, Dutch commandos freed 20 Yemeni hostages and also briefly detained seven pirates who had forced the Yemenis to sail a "mother ship" attacking vessels in the Gulf of Aden.

In a separate incident, gunmen from Somalia seized a Belgian ship and its 10 crew, including seven Europeans.

(Reporting by Alison Bevege; Writing by Daniel Wallis)

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