NATO warship sinks pirate ship off Somalia

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BRUSSELS — A NATO destroyer has sunk a pirate mothership in the Indian Ocean off the Somali coast after allowing the crew to leave, the alliance said Monday.

Shona Lowe, an anti-piracy spokeswoman, said the HDMS Absalon — the Danish flagship of the three-vessel NATO flotilla in the region — disrupted a pirate operation by “scuttling” one of the large boats used by Somali gangs to transport attack teams to piracy hunting areas far off the coast.

The mothership was fired on and sunk after its crew members were transferred to a smaller boat in tow, which was allowed to return to the mainland, she said.

“NATO is not in the business of firing at skiffs with pirates in them,” Lowe said in an interview from NATO’s naval headquarters in Northwood, near London.

Lowe said no further details were immediately available.

The action occurred Sunday in the Indian Ocean, rather than the adjacent Gulf of Aden where most pirate attacks take place.

Piracy in the region soared as the rule of law crumbled in Somalia and organized criminal gangs ramped up the lucrative business of boarding ships in the Gulf of Aden or the Indian Ocean — one of the world’s busiest sea lanes — and holding them, their crews and cargos for ransom.

The Somali government, besieged by an Islamic insurgency, does not have the forces to neutralize the pirate bases that flourish along its 1,900-mile (3,100-kilometer) coastline.

NATO maintains a three-ship flotilla — which also includes the frigates USS Boone and the British HMS Chatham — to fight the pirates. The European Union has a separate, six-ship squadron in the region as part of its anti-piracy mission known as Operation Atalanta, as do other nations such as the United States, India, Russia, and China.

The 6,300-ton Absalon, commissioned in 2007, serves as the flagship of the NATO flotilla. It arrived off Somalia in January.