Page last updated at 15:39 GMT, Tuesday, 11 November 2008

India navy 'stops pirate attack'

Indian warship in the Gulf of Aden
The navy says it is determined to protect ships in a key trade route

Commandos operating from a warship of the Indian navy have prevented an attempt by pirates to hijack a ship in the Gulf of Aden, the navy says.

It said that an armed helicopter with marine commandos stopped "pirates from boarding and hijacking an Indian merchant vessel" on Monday.

The vessel was heading eastwards after going through the Suez Canal.

The Indian navy last month sent its warships to the Gulf of Aden on an anti-piracy patrol.

The BBC's Alan Johnston in Delhi says it is the first time that it has taken action of this kind since it joined several foreign navies to patrol the often lawless waters off the coast of Somalia.

The navy was ordered to protect Indian flagships travelling between Oman and Yemen.

In Monday's incident they were responding to an emergency call made by a cargo vessel.

"This timely and successful intervention led to the pirates aborting their attempt," the navy said in a statement.

The navy has been conducting "anti-piracy patrols" in the Gulf of Aden since 23 October, because a "sizeable portion of our country's trade" flows through it, the navy statement said.

"There has been a quantum increase in the number of piracy attacks in this region over the last few months.

"These patrols are carried out in co-ordination with the Ministry of Shipping and are intended to protect Indian merchant vessels from being attacked by pirates and also to instil confidence in our large seafaring community."

Our correspondent says that the threat posed by pirates off the Somali coast has been the subject of increasing concern in India and the rest of the world. More than 80 ships have been hijacked off Somalia this year.

The issue was highlighted by the capture of a ship crewed mainly by Indians two months ago. The wife of the captain - who is still being held - has waged a high-profile media campaign to press for his release.

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