A gang of 11 Somali pirates has been captured by the French navy after they attacked a warship by mistake.
Sailing near the outer bounds of the Seychelles archipelago\’s waters in the Indian Ocean on Sunday just after dawn, the pirates spotted their potential victim from afar.
But the trademark nine-metre pirate “mother-ship” escorting two small skiffs had been spotted long before by its intended prey, a French warship bristling with cannons, state-of-the-art radar technology and well-trained servicemen.
The frigate Nivose, one of the ships patrolling the region as part of the European Union anti-piracy mission Atalanta, made sure to keep the pirates thinking it was a merchant vessel.
At around 0500 GMT (1500 AEST) the French vessel moved into the sun to keep its cover.
Assault rifles, grenades found
When the unsuspecting pirates were close enough, the Nivose unleashed commandos on outboards and dispatched a helicopter to interdict the pirates, leaving them no chance.
The helicopter fired two warning shots to stop one of the two skiffs from fleeing.
There was only one pirate left on the mother-ship, which was also intercepted moments later, with nothing on board except fuel and potatoes.
The French forces found two Kalashnikov assault rifles on one of the skiffs, ammunition, a rocket-launcher and five grenades which were deemed a hazard by the Nivose command and tossed into the sea.
The 11 captured pirates, some of them very young, looked exhausted and were made to sit on the deck with their hands on their heads as French forces searched them.
“The guys we catch are getting younger and younger,” said one navy soldier. “Look at this one, he can\’t be 17.”
Young pirates arrested
Senior officers on the ship said a decision would be made later on whether or not the suspects would be transferred and where to.
In recent weeks, the French navy has handed over dozens of suspected pirates to the authorities of Puntland — a northern Somali breakaway state which is a major piracy hub — and Kenya.
The European Union and the United States have memoranda of understanding with Kenya to facilitate the transfer of suspected pirates to the courts in the coastal city of Mombasa.
With foreign navies focusing their efforts on the Gulf of Aden, a bottleneck for maritime traffic carrying a large proportion of the world\’s oil supplies as it enters and exits the Red Sea, pirates have hunted their preyfurther out into the Indian Ocean.
Several incidents were recently reported in the exclusive economic zone of the Seychelles, a mall Indian Ocean nation which is a base for foreign fishing fleets and a popular destination
for luxury cruise liners.