European Union naval forces exchanged gunfire with Somali pirates yesterday in thwarting an attack on a Spanish navy oil tanker near Mogadishu.
Five of six suspected pirates detained on the ESPS Patino were injured and two required medical treatment, EU Navfor Somalia said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.
EU counter-piracy forces, which began their mission in December 2008, last exchanged fire with pirates in September, naval force spokesman Harrie Harrison said by phone from Northwood, England.
Somali pirate attacks on merchant ships that transit the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden, an area as large as Europe, more than quadrupled since 2007 to 219 in last year’s first 11 months, according to a U.K. parliamentary report released last week.
Between 1,500 and 3,000 pirates operate in the waters, navigated by 28,000 vessels carrying 40 percent of world trade, according to the report. Pirates secured $135 million in ransom payments in 2011 to release hijacked ships, it showed.
The men approached the Spanish tanker in a skiff, opened fire and tried to board, not realizing the ship was a naval vessel because it was dark, according to Harrison.
“The suspect pirates would have seen it looked like a large ship and gone for it,” he said.
Forces on the Patino fired in self-defense as the vessel waited “a short distance” from Mogadishu for a ship to unload a World Food Programme aid cargo, according to Harrison. Counter-piracy forces including NATO, the EU and the U.S.-led Combined Maritime Task Force patrol the Indian Ocean.
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