The Navy apprehended 61 pirates and rescued 13 crew members of a hijacked ship after a brief gun battle in the Arabian Sea.

The pirates will be brought aboard naval warship INS Tabar to Mumbai, while the hijacked ship Vega 5, a 140-tonne boat which was being used to launch attacks on merchant vessels in the area, is being towed there.

Launching the operation on Saturday night, INS Kalpeni, a water jet fast attack craft, closed in on the mother pirate vessel, which launched two skiffs that fired at the naval vessel.

The Navy responded with limited firing, which resulted in fire breaking out on Vega 5, Navy spokesman Commodore P.V.S. Satish said.

INS Kalpeni in coordination with missile corvette INS Khukri found 74 people — 61 pirates and 13 members of the original crew of Vega 5, a Mozambique flagged fishing vessel hijacked last December and since been used for piracy operations.

Preliminary investigations revealed that the pirates were carrying about 80 to 90 small arms/rifles and a few heavy weapons like rocket propelled grenades.

Several pirate attacks had been carried out from this vessel. Naval officers said apprehending these pirates meant thwarting eight to ten possible attacks since they carry out strikes in small groups.

On Friday night, the Navy patrol aircraft, while responding to a call from MV Vancouver Bridge under pirate attack, located Vega 5. On seeing the naval aircraft, the pirates immediately aborted their attempt and the mother vessel tried to escape. The aircraft tracked the pirate ship till its interception.

During the last two months, the Navy and the Coast Guard have intercepted two pirate mother ships and apprehended 43 pirates in the Arabian Sea.

The south-eastern part of the sea is the focal point of international traffic and security of these sea lanes is critical for global trade.

Meanwhile, Defence Minister A.K. Antony told the Lok Sabha that India has deployed one naval warship in the Gulf of Aden since October 2008 and provided escort to 1,500 merchant vessels in the area.

He said while piracy on the Somalian coast is a global menace, in recent times it has moved both east and southwards, and sporadic incidents have been reported off Lakshadweep.

According to the International Maritime Bureau, 174 ships have been hijacked between January 2008 and March 2011.

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