, PARIS, Apr 15 – A French warship patrolling waters off East Africa as part of an EU anti-piracy force intercepted a pirate "mother ship" on Wednesday and arrested 11 gunmen, the French defence ministry said.
The frigate chased the pirates 500 nautical miles (926 kilometres) east of the Kenyan coast after tracking them overnight from the scene of a failed attack on a Liberian-registered vessel, a spokesman said.
"The pirates were sailing a 10-metre (33-foot) mother ship carrying 17 drums holding 200 litres of fuel each and two assault skiffs," he said, adding that the captives were being held on board the French warship, the Nivose.
"The frigate spotted the pirates on the evening of April 14 when its helicopter intervened to thwart an attack on the merchantman (ship) Safmarine Asia. She followed their boats overnight and intervened at dawn," he said.
The Nivose is part of the eight-strong Atalante taskforce of warships from France, Germany, Spain and Italy sailing under the banner of the European Union to aid international efforts to curb a spate of Somali pirate attacks.
It recently shifted its patrol zone to the area east of Somalia and Kenya after the pirates, who operate out of bases in Somali fishing towns, began to enlarge their own area of operations and intensified their attacks.
Separately, French foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said that the force would soon be expanded and that more European powers would take part, patrolling an area of ocean that sees 16,000 ships pass through per year.
"Atalante is able to protect two ships in three," Nadal said, including 19 cargo vessels that have been used by the World Food Programme to bring 120,000 tonnes of food aid to 1.8 million Somalis since the operation began.
As well as the EU force, the United States, Russia, India, Turkey, China and others have deployed warships to protect international shipping. The pirates appear undaunted, however, and have even stepped up attacks.