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NATO shoots to end 7-hour pirate pursuit

NATO warships and helicopters pursued Somali pirates for seven hours after they attacked a Norwegian tanker and finally stopped them when they fired warning shots at the pirates' skiff, a NATO spokesmen said yesterday.

Seven pirates attempted to attack the Norwegian-flagged MV Front Ardenne late on Saturday but fled after crew took evasive maneuvers and alerted warships in the area, said NATO commanders.

"How the attack was thwarted is unclear," said Commander Chris Davies, of NATO's maritime headquarters in England. "It appears to have been the actions of the tanker." Portuguese Lieutenant Commander Alexandre Santos Fernandes, aboard a nearby warship, said no shots were fired at the tanker.

Davies said the pirates sailed into the path of the Canadian warship Winnipeg, which was escorting a World Food Program delivery ship through the Gulf of Aden. The American ship USS Halyburton, nearby, joined the chase.

The pirates jettisoned their weapons into the sea as the Canadian and United States warships, part of NATO's anti-piracy mission, closed in. "The skiff abandoned the scene and tried to escape to Somali territory," Fernandes said.

Both ships deployed helicopters and tried to hail the pirates over loudspeakers before firing warning shots to stop them, Fernandes said, but by then the pirates had dumped most of their weapons overboard. NATO forces boarded the skiff, where they found a rocket-propelled grenade, and interrogated, disarmed and released the pirates.

The pirates cannot be prosecuted under Canadian law because they did not attack Canadian citizens or interests and the crime was not committed on Canadian territory.

"When a ship is part of NATO, the detention of (a) person is a matter for the national authorities," Fernandes said. "It stops being a NATO issue and starts being a national issue."

The pirates' release underscores the difficulties navies have in fighting piracy off the coast of Somalia. Most of the time foreign navies simply disarm and release the pirates they catch due to legal complications and logistical difficulties in transporting pirates and witnesses to court.


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