Indian navy vessel 'sinks pirate ship'

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An Indian warship dedicated to fighting pirates destroyed a suspected pirate ship that had opened fire in the Gulf of Aden, the Indian navy said today.

The attack came late yesterday, the same day that pirates hijacked a Thai boat and an Iranian bulk cargo carrier off Somalia's coast, and three days after pirates seized a Saudi supertanker.

The INS Tabar, which is patrolling the Somali coast for pirates, approached the pirate ship and asked it to stop to be searched.

The pirate ship, which appeared to be a "mother vessel" loaded with food, diesel and water, had two speed boats in tow. Naval officers could see men roaming the ship's deck with rocket propelled grenade launchers and guns, an official release said.

The pirates threatened to blow up the warship, and then opened fire.

The INS Tabar returned fire, sparking explosions and a fire and destroying the suspected "mother vessel" pirate ship. The Indian ship chased one of the speed boats, which was later found abandoned, while the other escaped, the news release said.

Noel Choong of the International Maritime Bureau's piracy center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, said he was not aware of the Indian navy's claim.

Lt. Nathan Christensen, a spokesman for the 5th Fleet in Bahrain said the Navy has no reports on an incident involving an Indian ship in the Gulf of Aden.

This would be the third attack the INS Tabar has fended off since it began its anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden on Nov. 2. Naval commandos flying in a helicopter foiled an attempt to hijack an Indian merchant ship on Nov. 11.

The attack took place 285 nautical miles southwest off Salalah, Oman.

Pirate attacks off the Somali coast have surged 75 percent this year, as bandits lured by million-dollar ransoms have pushed farther out to sea in search of bigger prey among the 20,000 oil tankers, freighters and merchant vessels transiting the Gulf of Aden each year.

Somalia is caught up in an Islamic insurgency and has had no functioning government since 1991.