- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2007

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — A U.S. Navy destroyer helped sailors retake control of their vessel yesterday in a deadly battle with pirates after the North Korean-flagged ship was hijacked off the coast of Somalia, the American military said.

A helicopter flew from the USS James E. Williams to investigate a phoned-in tip of a hijacked vessel, and demanded by bridge-to-bridge radio that the pirates give up their weapons, the military said.

The crew of the Dai Hong Dan then overwhelmed the hijackers, leaving two pirates dead, according to preliminary reports, and five captured, the military said.

Three seriously injured crew members were brought aboard the Williams, the military said. The pirates remained on the Dai Hong Dan, which the crew was returning to the port of Mogadishu.

A U.S. Navy spokeswoman said piracy is a scourge in Somalia’s waters, and American ships are available to intercede.

“When we get a distress call, we help,” Cmdr. Lydia Robertson of the U.S. 5th Fleet said by telephone from Manama, Bahrain.

Andrew Mwangura, program coordinator of the Seafarers Assistance Program, said an estimated 22 crew members were aboard the North Korean-flagged vessel that gunmen seized late Monday in Somali waters. His group independently monitors piracy in the region. Workers at the Mogadishu port said the vessel delivered a load of sugar from India.

An international watchdog reported this month that pirate attacks worldwide jumped 14 percent in the first nine months of 2007, with the biggest increases in the poorly policed waters of Somalia and Nigeria.

Reported attacks in Somali waters rose to 26, up from eight a year earlier, the London-based International Maritime Bureau said through its piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The U.S. Navy said ships in a coalition monitoring the waters near Somalia also were following a hijacked Japanese vessel in those waters, and that four other boats are still controlled by pirates near Somalia.

Somalia has endured 16 years of violence and anarchy, and is now led by a government battling to establish authority even in the capital. Its coasts are virtually unpoliced.

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