French naval forces have detained 11 suspected pirates after raiding a pirate "mother ship" in the Indian Ocean, French military officials said Wednesday.
The French forces had been responding to a distress call from a Liberian cargo ship that was being attacked by pirates using rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire. A French military helicopter reached the scene, then reportedly followed the two small pirate skiffs back to a 30-foot boat apparently being used as a base for the pirates.
French forces from the Nivose — part of a European Union anti-piracy task force — then raided the larger boat, seizing the men, some weapons and barrels of fuel. The French ship towed the "mother ship" toward port in Mombasa, Kenya, the French Defense Ministry said.
The raid, which occurred about 460 miles off the Somali coast, is the second time in recent days that French forces have taken military action against pirates. Last week, French commandos freed a yacht that had been hijacked. During that operation, two pirates and a hostage were killed. Three other pirates arrested in that incident were sent to France for trial.
Piracy in the waters off the Horn of Africa has increased in recent months. The number of ships and crew held by Somali pirates varies, depending on the source. The NATO anti-piracy mission reports 16 ships are being held for ransom, while the International Maritime Bureau says 19 ships and some 300 crewmembers are being held.
The U.S. Navy says that 23 hijackings have occurred so far this year — well ahead of 2008’s pace, when a record 40 hijackings were reported.
Officials are now debating responses to the problem, including possible land incursions into Somali ports from which the pirates operate.