NAIROBI (Reuters) - A U.S. warship captured five suspected pirates on Thursday after an exchange of fire in the Indian Ocean west of the Seychelles, the U.S. navy said.
After the clash, the U.S. warship chased the suspected pirate ship, which had been damaged, until it stopped, it said.
It captured three pirates on a skiff and another two on the mother ship. The United States said that it expected pirates to increase attacks on merchant vessels due to better weather from March through May.
“USS Nicholas captured suspected pirates on Thursday after exchanging fire, sinking a skiff, and confiscating a suspected mother ship,” the U.S. Navy said in a statement. It did not say whether the pirates were Somalis.
Elsewhere, the Turkish Armed Forces said its commandos had captured nine pirates aboard a boat in the Gulf of Aden.
The frigate Gelibolu, serving as part of a NATO anti-piracy mission, intercepted the pirate skiff while monitoring the security corridor for merchant shipping 80 miles from the coast on Wednesday.
Pirates operating off Somalia have stepped up hijack attacks on vessels in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden in recent months, making tens of millions of dollars in ransoms, despite the presence of foreign navies off the coast of Somalia.
Pirate sources and a maritime source said that a Taiwanese ship had also been hijacked on Thursday.
“My colleagues captured a Taiwanese ship after a hard chase today,” a pirate named Hassan told Reuters. “They were two ships traveling together but one sped off.”
Andrew Mwangura of the Kenya-based East Africa Seafarers Assistance Programme said the Taiwanese ship Jin-chun Tsai 68 could have indeed been captured.
Attacks had created a two-year boom for specialist insurance cover, but stiff competition and moves by owners to better protect ships has taken the edge out of insurance costs.
Analysts say the menace of piracy is far from contained, and unchecked growth in the rest of Africa, possible attacks in other key shipping channels and higher ransom demands will keep insurers interested in the long term.
Somali pirates are seizing ships as far as the Mozambique Channel and off the coast of India and have started targeting ships bringing merchandise to Mogadishu’s port.
They are holding captive at least eight mechanized Indian dhows, or small boats. Seven of them, with 100 crew members, were hijacked over the weekend on their way to the United Arab Emirates from Somalia.
Another dhow, the Al-Barari, was seized on Wednesday after discharging its cargo in Mogadishu.
Al Shabaab, an Islamist group fighting Somalia’s western-backed government, condemned the attacks on ships serving Somali businessmen.
“It is inhuman to hijack ships carrying goods for Somali traders, there can be no excuse. They used to say they hunt foreign ships fishing illegally in Somalia. Those involved should release the ships,” Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, al Shabaab spokesman, told reporters.
However, a pro-government militia known as Ahlu Sunna said the rebels were boosting the pirate ranks.
“Piracy is not the same as before, al Shabaab and Hizbul Islam are now the majority of pirates,” Sheikh Abdullahi Sheikh Abu Yusuf, an Ahlu Sunna spokesman, told Reuters.
“These rebel Islamists now hold many boats including boats hired by Somalia traders.”
Additional reporting by Abdi Sheikh and Abdi Guled in Mogadishu; Editing by Helen Nyambura-Mwaura and Ralph Boulton