- The Washington Times - Friday, December 26, 2008

CAIRO | A German military helicopter foiled an attempt by pirates to seize an Egyptian ship off the coast of Somalia on Thursday, swooping in to drive off the attackers after being alerted by a passing vessel.

The German success comes as more countries are sending warships to patrol off the chaotic Horn of Africa nation and the United States is pressing for more assertive action against pirates, who have disturbed traffic on one of the world’s most important sea routes.

The Egyptian bulk carrier, Wadi al-Arab, with 31 crew members, was passing through the Gulf of Aden between Yemen and Somalia en route to Asia when gun-toting pirates in a speedboat began pursuing it, said Noel Choong of the International Maritime Bureau’s piracy reporting center.

A passing ship alerted the Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia-based bureau, which asked a multinational naval coalition force in the area to help, Mr. Choong said.

In response, the German navy frigate Karlsruhe dispatched a helicopter, a military spokesman said on the condition of anonymity, citing policy.

The pirates fled as the chopper reached the vessel, according to a statement from the German military, but not before shooting and injuring one of the ship’s crew. A second helicopter, carrying a medical team, retrieved the injured crew member, who is now receiving treatment on the Karlsruhe.

After the attack, the Wadi al-Arab continued on its way to South Korea, where it was delivering 56,000 tons of wheat from Ukraine, said Egyptian Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmed Rizq.

Piracy has taken an increasing toll on international shipping this year, especially in the Gulf of Aden, through which ships exiting or entering the Suez Canal - a key link between East and West - must pass.

Somali pirates have attacked 110 ships in the Gulf of Aden this year, successfully hijacking 42, Mr. Choong said. Most were released after a ransom was paid, though 14 - with more than 240 crew members - are still being held.

More than a dozen warships are now patrolling the vast gulf. Countries as diverse as Britain, India, Iran, the United States, France and Germany have naval forces in the waters or on their way there.

The force has seen a number of recent successes. Last week, two military helicopters drove off pirates who had boarded a Chinese cargo ship as the crew hid behind locked doors. Indian sailors captured 23 pirates who had been threatening a merchant vessel and handed them over to Yemen for prosecution.

Japan said Wednesday it is considering sending military ships to join the coalition. China is scheduled to send warships Friday.

The United States also succeeded last week in pushing through the U.N. Security Council a resolution allowing international forces to conduct operations on shore in Somalia against pirate havens.

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