Italian warship arrests 9 pirates

May 22, 2009 11:32:04 AM PDT
An Italian warship arrested nine pirates after helping a U.S.-flagged container vessel and another ship evade brigands off the coast of Somalia on Friday, a naval spokesman said. An Italian naval spokesman said sailors onboard the warship Maestrale captured the nine pirates in the Gulf of Aden after they fired on the Maria K, a ship from St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The pirates tried to flee in their skiff but stopped after warning shots were fired from the helicopter, the spokesman said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with defense department regulations. The nine pirates were taken aboard the Maestrale and Italy's navy is now awaiting instructions from authorities in Rome on what is to happen to the prisoners.

Canadian naval spokesman Michael McWhinnie said the nearby U.S.-flagged MV Maersk Virginia also was threatened.

The Canadian warship HCMS Winnipeg dispatched a helicopter after receiving the distress call, he said, but it was not needed.

The Maersk Virginia is owned by Norfolk-based Maersk Line Ltd. The company is owned by Danish container shipping and oil group A.P. Moller-Maersk.

Another U.S.-flagged ship owned by Maersk was attacked by pirates on April 8. Some of the 20-member crew of the Maersk Alabama hid in the engine room and took one pirate hostage before persuading the attackers to leave the boat with the ship's captain as hostage. They released the pirate but their attackers did not release the captain. The five-day drama ended when one pirate surrendered and Navy SEALs shot dead the three remaining pirates after they pointed their guns at the captain.

Despite the presence of naval ships from over a dozen countries, pirates have attacked more than 80 ships this year alone in the Gulf of Aden, and successfully hijacked 29 of them.

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Associated Press Writer Lavinia Spurr in Rome contributed to this report.

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