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France captures 'Somali pirates'

French navy on patrol in Gulf of Aden on 4 December 2008
France is part of an EU anti-piracy naval task force set up last month

A French warship has intercepted two suspected pirate boats in the Gulf of Aden and arrested eight Somalis on board, the French navy says.

International naval patrols are credited with helping deter most recent hijack attempts off Somalia, with only two ships captured last month.

But pirates still managed to hijack a cargo vessel with 28 Egyptian crew members on board on Thursday.

Somali pirates still hold about 15 ships with more than 200 crew members.

The suspected pirates were captured as they attempted to seize a Panamanian-registered cargo ship on Thursday, according to Christophe Prazuck, a spokesman for the French armed force.

"Resistance was impossible when faced by a well-armed warship," Mr Prazuck told French television.

He said the eight men, who were found with weapons and munitions, would be taken to Somalia for trial.

The International Maritime Bureau told the BBC on Thursday there had been a sharp drop in the number of ships seized by pirates off Somalia in December.

Among the latest incidents, a Malaysian military helicopter saved an Indian oil tanker from a pirate attack.

There were more than 100 pirate attacks in 2008 in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, in what is one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

The French are part of an EU anti-piracy naval task force set up last month in the waters in the first such naval operation of its kind. India, Iran, the US and China also have naval forces to deter pirates in the area.

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