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NAPLES, Italy — The U.S. Navy captured 16 suspected pirates in two days in separate incidents in the Gulf of Aden, also known as "pirate alley."

Early Thursday morning, the Indian-flagged merchant ship MV Premdivya sent a distress call reporting it had been fired on by a small craft, whose crew attempted to board.

A helicopter from a squadron embarked aboard the USS Vella Gulf flew to the area, spotted the small boat and signaled for it to stop, officials said.

The boat attempted to flee and the helicopter fired two warning shots before the suspects brought their boat to a stop.

The Vella Gulf, along with another Navy ship, USS Mahan, dispatched search-and-seizure teams to board the craft.

Officials said they found weapons and took the nine-man crew into custody on board the Vella Gulf.

They joined seven other pirates captured Wednesday when the Vella Gulf responded to a distress call that afternoon from a Marshall Islands-flagged merchant ship, MV Polaris.

The Vella Gulf dispatched a boarding team to apprehend the pirates off a small boat loaded with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, according to Lt. Nathan Christensen, U.S. 5th Fleet spokesman.

The USS Vella Gulf is the flag ship for multinational Task Force 151, established in January specifically to combat piracy in and around the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and the Red Sea.

The pirates will be processed, then transferred to a temporary holding facility on the supply ship USNS Lewis and Clark.

"They will remain onboard (the Lewis and Clark) until information and evidence is assembled and evaluated so a decision can be made regarding their further transfer," Christensen said.

Last month the Kenyan government agreed to try pirates captured by U.S. military forces.

Wednesday’s capture took place while the Navy was wrapping up an international two-day conference in Bahrain on ship-boarding procedures used in the fight against piracy, human trafficking, drug smuggling and other illegal activities in the Arabian Gulf.

More than 70 representatives from 22 countries from Europe, Singapore, Australia and Canada attended the conference.


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