March 14, 2011 Dalkayaga@gmail.com
NEW DELHI – The Indian navy captured 61 pirates who jumped into the Arabian Sea to flee a gunfight and fire on the hijacked ship from which they had staged several attacks, a navy statement said Monday.
Two Indian navy ships also rescued 13 crew members from the fishing boat Sunday night, nearly 695 miles (1,100 kilometers) off Kochi in southern India, the statement said.
The pirates had hijacked the Mozambique-flagged Vega 5 in December and had used it as a mother ship – a base from which they staged several attacks in the vast waters between East Africa and India.
A patrol aircraft spotted the mother ship Friday while responding to another vessel reporting a pirate attack, the Indian navy said. The pirates aborted the hijacking attempt and tried to escape in the mother ship.
When the Indian ships closed in Sunday night, the pirates fired on them. The hijacked vessel caught fire when the Indian navy returned fire, the navy said.
The pirates as well as the crew members jumped into the sea from the burning vessel, but were taken out by Indian sailors, the statement said.
The pirates were carrying about 80 to 90 small arms or rifles and a few heavier weapons, likely rocket-propelled grenades, it said. The statement did not describe any casualties among the navy, the fishermen or the pirates in Sunday's clash.
The navy was checking whether the pirates were from Somalia or Yemen. They were being taken to Mumbai, India's financial capital, to be prosecuted for attacking the Indian ships.
Piracy has plagued the shipping industry off East Africa for years, but violence and ransom demands have escalated in recent months. Pirates held some 30 ships and more than 660 hostages as of February.
The owner of a Bangladeshi-flagged ship that was held for more than three months said that the vessel and 26 crew members were released Monday.
Mehrul Kabir declined to say whether any ransom was paid for the release of the M.V. Jahan Moni, which was seized off the Indian coast while transporting nickel ore from Indonesia to Greece, but the media in Bangladesh reported the pirates were paid $4.2 million.
"All the crew members on board are safe," Mr. Kabir told reporters in Dhaka.
The Indian navy's third anti-piracy operation this year followed the capture of 28 Somali pirates last month and another 15 in January. Both groups also are to be prosecuted in Mumbai.
Indian warships have been escorting merchant ships as part of international anti-piracy surveillance in the area since 2008.
Several nations, including the United States, are prosecuting pirate suspects their militaries captured but other suspects have been released as countries weigh legal issues and other factors.
The prosecutions, the growth of criminal gangs participating in piracy and the ever-increasing ransoms have heightened confrontations.
Five Puntland security forces and two pirates were killed earlier this month during a failed attempt to rescue Danish captives taken from their hijacked yacht to a pirate stronghold in the semiautonomous northern region of Somalia.
Weeks earlier, four Americans on a hijacked yacht were killed by pirates under circumstances that are still unclear. A U.S. Navy destroyer was shadowing the captured boat at the time, and 15 pirate suspects were taken into custody after the gunfire.