NEW DELHI (AFP) — An Indian warship on Tuesday prevented two merchant vessels from being hijacked by heavily armed pirates in the Gulf of Aden and escorted both ships to safety, the navy said.
Pirates on power-boats attacked Saudi Arabia-registered merchant vessel "MV Timaha," and half an hour later a second group tried to board a 38,000-tonne bulk carrier owned by India's Great Eastern Shipping Co, the navy said.
"Both the ships had crossed the Suez Canal and were a short distance away from Aden when the Saudi vessel was attacked by these boats, each carrying up to five pirates each," a top naval official told AFP.
"Our frigate patrolling the area responded to a distress call by "MV Timaha" and sent an attack helicopter carrying commandos which opened fire while the pirates were making repeated attempts to board the Saudi ship," he said.
"While all this was on, the Indian cargo ship was attacked within the next 30 minutes," said the official, who did not want to be named.
The Gulf of Aden is one of the busiest but most pirate-infested shipping lanes in the world.
The International Maritime Board says 74 ships have been attacked off Somalia since January, of which 30 were hijacked and 10 are still being held for ransom. Pirates are holding almost 200 crew members.
Experts say many attacks go unreported along Somalia's 3,700-kilometre (2,300-mile) coast where heavily-armed pirates operate high-powered speedboats.
Indian navy spokesman Nirad Sinha confirmed the account and said no casualties were reported.
"Both the ships were escorted to safety and we are stepping up patrolling in the sea," Sinha said, adding he did not have any further details of the Saudi merchant ship except that it had five Indians among its crew.
The naval source said the pirates appeared to be carrying powerful weapons but did not put up a fight.
India's navy chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta said India would continue to engage pirates.
"Indian naval ships operating in piracy-infected areas are always in a high state of alert and have the capability to intervene by air or ship-borne weapons," he said.
"Their mandate is to ensure that the safety of our sovereign assets is maintained."
It was the first time the Indian navy has repulsed a pirate attack in the region since New Delhi deployed a warship there on October 23.
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