The Italian Almanac

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the Maestrale frigate

Bad Wind for Pirates

The Italian navy arrested nine Somali pirates after thwarting an attempt to hijack a Liberian-owned freighter in the Gulf of Aden. The navy frigate Maestrale received an SOS from the Maria K, a 21,000-tonne freighter flagged in St Vincent and the Grenadines, saying it was under fire from gunmen on a high-powered motor launch.

The Italian ship sent a helicopter which fired at the launch, forcing it to stop its attack and let the Maria K go. The Maestrale`s captain then received the all-clear from the command vessel of the European Union`s anti-pirate mission Atalanta to inspect the pirates` boat. Italian marines on board the Maestrale reached the boat on two dinghies and the pirates surrendered.

The nine men are currently being questioned, navy sources said, and may be taken to Italy to be tried. It would be the first trial of Somali pirates anywhere. The marines from the San Marco regiment were said to have seized ``interesting`` material from the pirates which may help future operations.

This was the second success for the Maestrale since it joined the EU mission in mid-April. On May 5 the frigate scared off a pirate attack on the Italian freighter Neverland. At the end of April Somali pirates attacked the Italian container ship Jolly Smeraldo three times in two days but the boat`s crew was able to defend the ship using diversionary manoeuvres and a high-pressure salt-water hose.

Pirates have stepped up activity in Somali waters over the last month, capturing or attempting to capture dozens of foreign ships. On April 25 the Italian-owned Melody cruise ship foiled an attack by Somali pirates 200 miles north of the Seychelles using a salt-water hose to wash pirates off a ladder they were using to try to board the ship. A third Italian ship, the Buccaneer, was seized in the Gulf of Aden on April 11. The ship`s crew of 16, ten of whom are Italians, are still being held.