SANAA (Reuters) - Yemeni special forces Monday freed a Yemeni oil tanker seized by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden, killing three pirates and capturing at least nine on board, a government official said.
The ship, named Qana, was seized by Somali pirates off Yemen’s coast Sunday but was empty of oil cargo. The deaths Monday took to five the number of pirates killed as Yemeni forces battled for two days to take back the vessel.
They were escorting the tanker to the Yemeni port of Aden on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.
Pirates have made millions of dollars over the past year from seizing ships and taking crews hostage. Pirates have increased raids on ships passing through the Gulf of Aden, a key shipping lane for oil and cargo, since February.
Better weather has allowed them to operate more freely despite foreign navy patrols off the coast of Somalia.
Yemen, across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia, is a small producer of oil and exports 200,000 barrels per day but is one of the world’s poorest countries.
The tanker, with a 23-strong crew of which three are Indian and the rest Yemenis, has a capacity of 3,000 tons but was not carrying any cargo when it was seized.
The pirates had briefly seized three other vessels earlier before Yemeni forces freed them, a Yemeni official said.
Sunday pirates freed the Yemeni-owned Sea Princess II tanker that had been held since January 2.
The London-based IMB watchdog said piracy incidents nearly doubled in the first quarter of 2009, almost entirely due to Somalia and there were 18 attacks off its coast in March alone.
Reporting by Mohammed Sudam; Writing by Andrew Hammond; editing by Richard Balmforth