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Somali Pirates, French Fishing Vessel Exchange Fire

Somali pirates fired on a French fishing vessel and guards on board returned fire, prompting a military helicopter and warship to rush to the scene, authorities said Wednesday. Seven Somali pirates were arrested.

Pirates in two skiffs fired on the French vessel about 350 miles east of the Somali capital of Mogadishu, said Cmdr. John Harbour of the European Union Naval Force.

French military personnel on board the trawler, the "Cape Saint Vincent," returned fire, French military spokesman Rear Adm. Christophe Prazuck said. It did not appear that any of the shots hit the pirates, he said.

A German warship was dispatched to the scene, as was a helicopter, which fired warning shots at the pirates, who then were seen throwing items on the boat overboard. Once the warship arrived, seven pirates were detained, the EU Naval Force said.

The attack off the east coast of Africa came Tuesday, the same day authorities said it appeared likely Somali pirates had captured a British couple sailing on a yacht. A Somali pirate told The Associated Press the couple were being taken to a village on Somalia's southern coast.

International naval forces have been hunting for the British couple feared taken by pirates. Paul and Rachel Chandler were heading to Tanzania in their yacht, the Lynn Rival, when a distress signal was sent early Friday, according to the U.K. Maritime and Coast Guard Agency.

With the monsoon season recently ended in the Indian Ocean off East Africa, there have been a rash of attacks as pirates return to the open seas. More than 130 crew members from seven ships are currently being held, including about 70 from the latest attacks.

Pirates can make huge sums of money by capturing a vessel and demanding ransom. The high-seas hijackings have persisted despite an international armada of warships deployed by the United States, the European Union, NATO, Japan, South Korea and China to patrol the region.