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Related story:U.S. Navy frigate captures five pirates near Seychelles

NAPLES, Italy — Military warships have seen swarms of pirates taking to the seas from Somalia in recent weeks, causing a dramatic increase in the number of attacks off the coasts, a European naval official said.

"The monsoon season ended about a month ago, and there has been a great deal of activity since," said British Cmdr. John Harbour, spokesman for the EU Naval Force Somalia. "Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen swarms of pirates leaving the beaches for this part of the seas, and the number of attacks are at least double the number of this time last year."

In the last week alone, nearly a dozen dhows and fishing boats either have been hijacked or "disappeared," he said. For instance, Somali pirates hijacked a small Indian trade boat as it left Mogadishu port on Wednesday, the Washington Post reported.

The uptick in attacks is likely a result of the EU Naval Force’s new tactic of sinking the pirates’ "mother ships," forcing the pirates to commandeer another vessel to replace their own. In early March, the coalition decided to go after the pirates, sinking their larger supply ships and skiffs rather than just escorting cargo and commercial ships transiting through the area.

Since March 1, EU Naval Forces — consisting of the French, Spanish, German and Dutch warships and aircraft from Sweden and Luxemburg — have interdicted 17 pirate groups and detained more than 130 suspected pirates, Harbour said.

Of the 130, roughly half were released because of a lack of evidence, he said. That evidence could include weapons such as rocket-propelled grenade launchers or AK-47s, or lack of proof linking pirates to a hijacking.

Those who are taken into custody usually are turned over to the governments of Kenya or the Seychelles for prosecution, Harbour said.

All captured pirates are identified, photographed and entered into a database. Because the information is "sensitive," Harbour declined to say how often forces pick up repeat offenders.

The number of pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean increased from 122 attacks in 2008 to 198 attacks in 2009, according to the U.S. State Department. However, of those attacks the number of successful boardings remained relatively equal, with 42 in 2008 and 50 in 2009.


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