Danish warship captures Gulf of Aden pirates

A Danish ship patrolling the Gulf of Aden under NATO operational control captured 16 suspected Somali pirates who were sailing a hijacked vessel, the Danish navy and NATO said on Sunday.

"The Esbern Snare warship on Friday morning captured a pirate group which operated from a hijacked ship," the Danish Navy operational control (SOK) said in a statement.

The Danish crew spotted a small suspicious vessel while patrolling off the Somali coast Friday and decided to investigate it.

"After boarding the vessel it became clear that those (aboard) were 16 suspected pirates and two Yemeni hostages," NATO's Allied Maritime command said.

"The original fishing crew of nine people had been held for a year but most of them had been released," it added.

The Danish crew found rocket launchers, assault riffles, ammunition, large quantities of fuel and two skiffs on board.

The two Yemeni hostages, who apparently had been put to work on the ship, were taken onto the Esbern Snare and would later be returned to Yemen, SOK said.

It added a task force determined there were no sufficient grounds to prosecute the suspected Somali pirates, who were brought back to land early Sunday.

Ships such as the one captured are referred to as "pirate motherships."

"These ships provide the pirates with a floating base when they are operating far from the shore. They pose a great threat to the merchant shipping," the commanding officer of the Esbern Snare, Commander Haumann, said in the NATO statement.

The Danish command and control vessel is taking part in NATO's anti-piracy operation in the Gulf of Aden, dubbed "Ocean Shield", which started in August 2009 and has been extended until the end of 2012.

Somali pirates staged 37 successful hijackings of ships in the region in the first 10 months of 2010, up from 33 in the same period of 2009, the United Nations said in a report published in early November.

Somalia has had no central government since a civil war erupted with the 1991 overthrow of former president Mohamed Siad Barre, and an Al-Qaeda supported Islamist militia is battling transitional leaders for power.

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