, ADEN, Yemen, Apr 27 – Yemeni forces early Monday stormed an oil tanker seized by pirates off Yemen’s coast, killing three hijackers, capturing 11 and regaining command of the ship, the defence ministry said.
The ministry in a statement on its website www.26sep.net said Yemeni marine troops, special force commandos and helicopters were deployed during heavy fighting for control of the Qana, which was seized by the pirates Sunday.
"A team of the special commandos stormed the vessel at 5.00 am (0200 GMT) … and fought the pirates, shooting three of them dead," the statement said.
Five pirates were wounded in the fighting, said the ministry, which on Sunday had announced that two pirates were killed and one wounded in earlier operations to free the Qana as well as three other ships in the hands of pirates.
Two Yemeni coast guards were wounded in the operations, which saw the three smaller ships being freed on Sunday.
Pirates seized the Qana some 10 miles off Yemen’s coast as it was on its way to the southern port city of Aden from Al-Mukalla, where it had offloaded its cargo at Al-Mukalla port.
It was now heading to the Yemeni city of al-Mukalla in the eastern province of Hadramut, the ministry said.
The Kenya-based environmental organisation Ecoterra International also announced on Sunday that Somali pirates had released a small Yemeni freighter MT Sea Princess II and its 15 crew members, held since January.
Some 16 other ships and more than 270 hostages are still held by Somali pirates pending the outcome of negotiations over ransom money for their release.
According to the International Maritime Bureau, pirate attacks off lawless Somalia — without an effective central government since 1991 — increased tenfold in the first three months of this year compared with the same period in 2008, jumping from six to 61.
The pirates have defied an increased international naval presence to step up attacks during favourable weather, seizing more than 10 vessels in April alone.
The heavily armed hijackers operate high-powered speed boats and sometimes hold ships for weeks before releasing them for large ransoms paid by governments or ship owners.
An international counter-piracy naval force Combined Task Force (CTF) 151 is stationed in the area to fight piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.
CTF 151 was established in January to fight piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.
Somali pirates attacked more than 130 merchant ships in the Gulf of Aden last year, an increase of more than 200 percent on 2007, according to the International Maritime Bureau, which tracks piracy.
More than 150 suspected pirates were arrested by naval patrols in the Gulf in 2008.