By Sudarsan Raghavan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, April 1, 2010; 7:06 PM
NAIROBI -- A U.S. Navy warship exchanged fire with suspected Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean early Thursday, the latest salvo in a growing international effort to curb piracy in one of the world's most strategically important shipping lanes.
Shortly after midnight, the suspected pirates fired on the USS Nicholas west of the Seychelles Islands in an apparent attempt to seize the ship and hold it for ransom. The 453-foot frigate returned fire, sinking one of the pirates' boats and seizing the mother ship, the Navy said in a statement. Five men were taken into custody on the Norfolk-based Nicholas.
Somali piracy has escalated in recent years as lawlessness gripped the country, whose central government collapsed in 1991. Pirates fired at a U.S. warship off Somalia last May and have also attacked French and Dutch naval vessels in the area.
Thursday's attack came nearly a year after pirates boarded the Maersk Alabama and took its captain hostage, the first assault on a U.S.-registered ship off Africa in more than 200 years. A U.S. rescue operation ended when Navy snipers shot dead three pirates in a lifeboat, with the captain tied up a few feet away.
Last year, 406 incidents of piracy and armed robbery were reported, according to the International Maritime Bureau. Somali pirates accounted more than half those incidents.