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March 3, 2009

German Navy detains nine pirate suspects

While the U.S. has turned over nine pirate suspects to the government of Somalia's semi-autonomous Puntland region, the German Navy this morning took another nine into custody aboard the frigate Rheinland-Pfalz after it thwarted a pirate attack.

The frigate, which is in the Gulf of Aden, received an emergency call at 7.12 local time this morning from the MV Courier, owned by Germany's Gebrüder Winter and flying the flag of Antigua and Barbuda.

The merchant ship, which was some 50 nm from the frigate, reported that it was under fire from RPG's and automatic weapons.

The commander of the frigate dispatched its Sea Lynx to assist and a helicopter from the American warship USS Monterey also responded.

Warning shots were fired and an open boat used by the pirates was halted. The U.S helicopter returned to the Monterey.

At approximately 9:50 local time the Rheinland-Pfalz arrived and the pirate boat was boarded. Evidence was secured and nine suspected CET clock approached the Rhineland-Palatinate on the ship a few yards and led a boarding on the boat by pirates. The evidence was secured and nine suspects taken aboard the German frigate for questioning.

A decision on future proceedings will be taken at government level.

Meantime, the U.S. Navy says that at approximately 5:30 p.m. yesterday, nine Somali nationals were turned over to the Puntland Coast Guard "for purposes of their release."

Media with sources within Puntland, including Iran's Press-TV quote Puntland officials as saying police will begin further investigations to find out whether the nine are pirates or simple fishermen.

The nine individuals were apprehended in the Gulf of Aden Feb. 12, after the Indian-flagged MV Premdivya sent a distress call to all ships in the Gulf of Aden reporting that she had been fired upon at night by a small skiff, and that pirates were attempting to board it.

The nine individuals were stopped in the general vicinity of the Indian motor vessel after the attack and were found to possess weapons and equipment commonly used to facilitate pirate attacks.

While maintaining custody of the Somali nationals, the U.S. Navy evaluated the situation and determined there was inconclusive evidence to support their prosecution. As a result, says the Navy, the nine Somali nationals were transferred to the Puntland Coast Guard to facilitate their safe return to shore. While aboard U.S. Navy ships, the Somali nationals were treated humanely, receiving food and medical care.

Seven suspected pirates are still being held by the U.S. Navy. Those individuals will remain in custody while the details of their transfer are finalized.


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