NAIROBI, Oct 10 – French soldiers providing protection on board French fishing ships in the Indian Ocean early on Saturday fired on pirates to repel an attack, sources said.
"Three small launches… (which were) nearly invisible and that we had on the radar at the last moment, chased us," a member of the crew of the Drennac, one of two fishing French vessels approached by the pirates, told AFP by telephone.
The soldiers "at first fired warning shots, then they fired at the target," he added.
The incident took place 195 nautical miles (350 kilometres) north of the Seychelles. There were no casualties on the French side.
The report was confirmed by a western source in the same area. He said that the pirate skiffs that came under fire returned to a mother ship some 30 metres (90 feet) long.
It is the first time that the French soldiers, who have been providing protection since July 1 on board about 10 French fishing ships off the Somalian coast, have opened fire on pirates.
"It proves that this measure (having soldiers on board) works," the western source said.
Spanish fishing vessels operating in the same region have called for the same protection measures but Madrid has so far refused.
A Spanish vessel, the giant tuna hauler the Alakrana, was captured September 2 on the high seas between Somalia and the Seychelles with 36 crew on board.
The pirates brought the vessel in towards the coast and it is currently anchored off Harardere, a central Somlia port. It is under surveillance from two frigates that are part of the European anti-piracy initiative Atalanta.
The latest attack on the Glenan and the Drennec took place some 20 nautical miles (36 kilometres) from the place where pirates last week attacked a cargo vessel.
Several warships involved in the Atalanta operation headed into that zone following the attempted attack on the cargo vessel.
On Wednesday Somali pirates operating at night attacked a French military command ship and petrol tanker La Somme after mistaking it for a cargo vessel.
Five pirates were captured.