DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) - A U.S. warship captured six suspected pirates Saturday after abattle off the Horn of Africa -- the Navy's third direct encounterwith seafaring bandits in less than two weeks.
The Navy has taken at least 21 suspected pirates since March 31in the violence-plagued waters off Somalia and nearby regions,where U.S. warships are part of an international anti-piracyflotilla.
A statement by the U.S. Navy said the suspected pirates beganshooting at the amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland justbefore dawn about 380 miles (610 kilometers) off Djibouti, a smallnation facing Yemen across the mouth of the Red Sea.
The Navy said the Ashland returned fire and the suspected pirateskiff was destroyed. All six people on board were rescued and takenaboard the Ashland.
The Ashland suffered no injuries or damage in the second recentattack on a U.S. warship by suspected pirates.
On March 31, the frigate USS Nicholas exchanged fire with asuspected pirate vessel west of the Seychelles, sinking their skiffand confiscating a mother ship. Five suspected pirates werecaptured.
On Monday, the destroyer USS McFaul responded to the distresscall from a merchant vessel and captured 10 other suspectedpirates.
The Navy said it was reviewing "multiple options" on thesuspects' fates.
Some suspected pirates have been turned over to Kenya for trial,but there has been some reluctance by African nations to become acenter for prosecutions. In December, the Dutch government released13 suspected Somali pirates after the European Union failed to finda country willing to prosecute them.
One of the suspected pirates accused of attacking theU.S.-flagged merchant ship Maersk Alabama last year is facing trialin the United States.
At the United Nations, Russia has introduced a draft resolutionto the U.N. Security Council that calls for strengthening theinternational legal system to ensure captured Somali pirates do notescape punishment.
In Turkey, a news agency reported Saturday that Somali pirateshave abandoned a commandeered Turkish ship.
The Dogan agency quoted Fatih Kabal, an official of BergenShipping based in Istanbul, as saying the pirates left the MV YasinC, which was seized Wednesday 250 miles (400 kilometers) off theKenyan coast.
Kabal said the crew had locked themselves in the engine room andrealized that the pirates had left the ship on Friday. He said crewmembers, who were unharmed, took the damaged ship to the Kenyanport of Mombasa.
Somali pirates have been known to give up on ships they believehave no ransom value, such as vessels owned or hired by Somalitraders.
Meanwhile, the owner of a hijacked supertanker has begunnegotiations for the ship's release, a South Korean ForeignMinistry official said on condition of anonymity, citing thesensitivity of the talks. Repeated calls to the vessel operator,South Korea-based Samho Shipping, seeking comment went unansweredon Saturday night. The vessel is owned by a Singaporeancompany.
A South Korean naval destroyer that had been monitoring the shipbegan sailing away from the pirates Saturday and heading backtoward the Gulf of Aden after the pirates warned the sailors not tocome any closer.
Authorities say Somali pirates hijacked the 300,000-ton SamhoDream in the Indian Ocean on April 4. The ship was transportingcrude oil worth about $160 million from Iraq to the U.S. with acrew of 24 South Koreans and Filipinos.
More than a dozen ships and their crew are believed to becurrently held by pirates off the lawless coast of Somalia.
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