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PARIS (Reuters) - A French frigate captured 11 Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean on Wednesday after foiling an attack on a Liberian-flagged merchant ship, the French defence ministry said.
Naval forces from around the world are battling pirates in and around the Gulf of Aden, one of the world's busiest shipping routes where even intervention by the U.S. military has not stopped a new spate of hijackings and hostage-taking.
The French frigate Nivose captured the pirates' mothership, which was carrying two small assault boats, some 900 kilometres east of the Kenyan port of Mombasa on Tuesday, the defence ministry said.
"The centre of gravity for the pirates used to be the Gulf of Aden," said armed forces spokesman Christophe Prazuck, adding that there had been a rise in attacks further away from Somalia.
The Nivose, deployed to prevent attacks in the gangs' widening hunting grounds off the coast of Somalia and neighbouring Kenya, started tracking the pirates after its helicopter thwarted an attack on the Liberian-flagged Safmarine Asia, a merchant ship.
Supported by a surveillance plane, France's frigate is in the region as part of "Operation Atalanta," the European Union's anti-piracy mission that also involves German, Spanish, French and Italian forces.
On Sunday, U.S. snipers killed three Somali pirates and freed an American ship captain who had been held hostage for five days.
Last week, French forces attacked pirates holding a yacht with five hostages in a dramatic rescue mission, during which one of the hostages was killed.
The pirates have vowed to take revenge on U.S. and French citizens after the military operations.
Reporting by Sophie Hardach; Editing by Jon Boyle