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Indian Naval Warship Destroys Pirate Vessel

There have been two more pirate attacks in Somali waters off the coast of Africa. It brings the number of attacks to eight in the past 12 days. The number of pirate attacks off the coast of Africa has risen 75 percent this year. Video by AP
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By Emily Wax and Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, November 20, 2008

NEW DELHI, Nov. 19 -- An Indian navy frigate battled with and sank a vessel described as a pirate mother ship in the Gulf of Aden, one of the world's busiest and most lawless shipping lanes, the navy said Wednesday.

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Amid a surge of piracy around the hijacking-plagued Horn of Africa, the Indian navy said in a statement that fire from its INS Tabar set the pirate vessel aflame after it failed to stop for investigation.

The overnight battle in the Gulf of Aden, the gateway to the Suez Canal and the main shipping route from Asia and the Middle East to Europe, occurred days after the Saudi-owned Sirius Star supertanker and its 25 crew members were seized. It is the biggest tanker hijacked to date and is carrying 2 million barrels of oil -- a quarter of Saudi Arabia's daily output, valued at $100 million.

The ship remained anchored off the Somali coast while its owners negotiated for its release Wednesday. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said that the owner, the Saudi oil giant Aramco, was "negotiating on the issue" and would be "the final arbiter" on how to get the crew, the tanker and the load of oil released.

A Saudi newspaper, Okaz, reported that Aramco had hired an international company to negotiate with the hijackers.

The Indian navy statement said that before the Tuesday night battle, the crew of the renegade vessel could be seen on board with a full complement of modern weapons and tools -- satellite phones, night-vision goggles, AK-47 assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. The ship was spotted while the Tabar was patrolling 285 nautical miles southwest of the coast of Oman on Tuesday evening.

The Tabar crew demanded that the vessel stop. But the pirate ship responded by threatening to "blow up the naval warship if it closed on her," the navy statement said. The pirates then fired on the Tabar, and the Indian crew responded.

Some of the pirates tried to escape on two speedboats that the larger vessel had in tow. One boat was later found abandoned, while the second escaped.

More than 90 ships have been attacked this year off Somalia, a country that has not had a functioning national government since 1991, when warlords ousted a dictatorship and turned on one another, breaking the country into a patchwork of fiefdoms. Somalia has had no army, police, navy or coast guard for more than 20 years.

Last month, the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved resolutions calling on naval ships and military aircraft to deploy to Somalia's coastline. It also allowed foreign powers to enter Somali waters to fight piracy. But, for now, at least 14 ships with 243 crew members are still being held. Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said at a news conference Wednesday that although nations can help prevent piracy, shipping companies should do more to secure their vessels.

Morrell said he objects to "this whole issue that it's incumbent upon the armed forces of the world -- the navies of the world -- to solve this problem."

He suggested using high-frequency sounds to deter pirates from boarding and having more armed guards on commercial ships.

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