January 1, 2009 / 1:02 PM / 10 years ago

Malaysian helicopter saves ship from Somali pirates

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - A Malaysian military helicopter, taking off from a warship sailing nearby, scared away Somali pirates trying to hijack an Indian vessel in the Gulf of Aden on Thursday, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said.

A handout photo taken by the Royal Malaysian Navy and released by the Kuala Lumpur-based International Maritime Bureau on January 1, 2009, shows the Indian vessel MT Abul Kalam Azad. A Malaysian military helicopter, taking off from a warship sailing nearby, scared away Somali pirates trying to hijack the Indian vessel in the Gulf of Aden on Thursday, the International Maritime Bureau said. REUTERS/International Maritime Bureau/Royal Malaysian Navy/Handout

The incident, the first of 2009, involved an Indian ship with a dead weight tonnage of 92,687 tonnes, said Noel Choong, an official from the Kuala Lumpur-based IMB.

“Two small boats carrying pirates came close to the Indian vessel and started firing on the bridge and the accommodation area,” Choong told Reuters.

“The pirates tried to board the vessel repeatedly but failed, as the captain manoeuvred the ship and increased its speed.”

A Malaysian warship, KD Sri Indera Sakti, which was about 15 nautical miles from the area, responded to the Indian vessel’s distress calls and sent a helicopter which scared the pirates away, Choong said.

“We have been told that all crew members are safe, while the damage to the vessel is being assessed,” said Choong, without saying how many crew were on board.

Last week, quick action by a German warship halted an attack on an Egyptian bulk carrier, while a Chinese commercial vessel was helped by a Malaysian warship earlier in December, he said.

The rescues are a sign that foreign navies patrolling the key shipping lane linking Europe and Asia are adopting more effective tactics against the surge in piracy in waters off Somalia.

“Despite the increased naval presence, the pirates are still finding loop holes to attack ships like this, highlighting the need for more effective anti-piracy measures,” said Choong.

The rise in attacks on shipping prompted NATO ships to begin anti-piracy operations off the Somali coast in October, joined by other nations such as China and India.

In 2008, 111 ships were reported to have been attacked and 42 hijacked, Choong said. Fourteen of the hijacked vessels and more than 240 crew members are still being held by pirates.

Nearly 20,000 ships pass through the Gulf of Aden each year on their way to and from the Suez Canal.

Reporting by Faisal Aziz, Editing by Dean Yates

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