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Portuguese frigate thwarts pirate attack

Video by Rachel MARUSAK

Latest update : 2009-05-02

A helicopter from a Portuguese frigate has thwarted a pirate attack on a merchant ship off the Somali coast and briefly detained and disarmed 19 would-be hi-jackers. The pirates had targeted a Norwegian tanker.

REUTERS - Portuguese warship Corte-Real captured, disarmed and briefly detained 19 pirates armed with high-explosives after they attempted to attack a Norwegian-owned oil tanker in the Gulf of Aden, NATO officials said on Saturday.

Crude oil tanker MV Kition radioed for help on Friday afternoon after a skiff full of pirates brandishing assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades approached them, said NATO Lieutenant Commander Alexandre Fernandes from on board the NATO warship.

"They were about 20 nautical miles south of us and we were the nearest warship, so we immediately scrambled our helicopter," he said.

Helicopter pilots Marco Coimbra and Pedro Gomes-Bras spotted the skiff and began tracking the pirates who fled the circling helicopter to the safety of their mothership.

The Portuguese escort frigate began hunting the mothership, a dhow with 19 heavily armed pirates aboard. After a high-speed chase the dhow was intercepted and by evening, eight marines managed to board the vessel.

The special forces discovered four 200g sticks of the chemical high-explosive P4A, four AK-47s and one rocket propelled grenade launcher with nine grenades, Fernandes said.

"It was almost a kilogramme of high explosives," he said. "If used correctly it can open a hole in the hull of a ship and sink her."

"It is the first time we have spotted high explosives on board a pirate ship, normally they just stick to AK-47s and RPGs," Fernandes said, adding that he did not think the explosives signalled an escalation in violence.

"They thought they needed it, but an RPG is a more offensive weapon," he said.

There were no injuries reported and Fernandes said the pirates did not shoot at the Bahamas-flagged merchant vessel, the helicopter or the marines.

"They surrendered immediately," he said.

After consulting with Portuguese authorities, the Corte-Real, which was last week recalled from other duties to fight piracy in the Gulf, released the pirates, Fernandes said.

Each warship on NATO's anti-piracy mission Operation Allied Protector must comply with its national regulations on dealing with captured pirates.

Date created : 2009-05-02