MUMBAI, Feb 6 – The Indian navy and coastguard captured a suspected pirate "mothership" and detained more than 50 people after a firefight on Sunday off southwestern India, the defence ministry said.
"There were 52 people in all," defence ministry spokesman Captain M. Nambiar told AFP but was unable to specify the numbers of suspected pirates and rescued hostages, nor could he give their nationalities.
All were found on board a Thai fishing vessel that had been hijacked up to six months ago off the coast of Somalia and is thought to have since been used as a floating base to mount attacks on shipping, a ministry statement added.
Mumbai police said they were expecting to interview all those detained when they arrive in the city.
Indian navy and coastguard were sent to hunt the pirates after the crew of a Greek-flagged vessel said they had been attacked some 100 nautical miles west of Kavaratti, off the state of Kerala in southwest India.
Two high-speed skiffs were located in the early hours of Sunday and chased back to the mothership. Coastguard and navy were fired on twice, the statement said.
"The resultant firefight was brief but decisive with the pirates quickly losing any stomach they might have had for a protracted confrontation and hoisting the white flag of surrender," it added.
"A mix of pirates and crew members being held hostage aboard the trawler were collectively recovered."
The incident occurred near international shipping lanes that pass close to India\’s Lakshadweep Islands, the statement said without giving further details. The region is around 1,700 nautical miles from the coast of Somalia.
Fifteen suspected pirates — 12 Somalis, two Ethiopians and a Kenyan — face trial in India after they were caught in the same area on January 28.
They were also said to have used another hijacked Thai fishing vessel as a mothership.
Piracy has made shipping increasingly perilous off the Horn of Africa and led to the deployment of an international force to protect the key maritime corridor.
Sunday\’s operation comes after concerns voiced last month by US Vice-Admiral Mark Fox, who said that commercial shipping was under threat off India\’s coast.
He called for counter-terrorism tactics to combat pirates as they had extended their operations well beyond the coast of lawless Somalia and the reach of international naval patrols.