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Anti-piracy force nets 16 suspected Somali pirates

The European Union's anti-piracy naval force said Tuesday that they have caught 16 suspected Somali pirates in the past five days with the help of the Seychelles Coast Guard.

Also on Tuesday, the Polish captain of an oil tanker said gun-wielding pirates boarded his ship and fired shots in an attempt to hijack the vessel, but failed to capture the ship in the attack off the coast of Oman.

The EU force said in a statement that the 16 suspected pirates were captured in two separate operations in the Indian Ocean on Saturday and Thursday last week. The operation involved the EU providing aerial surveillance and the Seychelles Coast Guard making the actual arrests.

The Seychelles government said in a Monday statement that one of the suspected pirates died from wounds sustained during a gun fight. The statement said seven Seychellois fishermen were also rescued in the operation.

The statement also said Seychelles military aircraft were involved in the operation.

"These two operations have sent a clear message ... to the Somali pirates that are attacking our fishermen and our country; that you don't play around with Seychelles," said Seychelles' President James Michel on Monday.

The last time the Seychelles Coast Guard was involved in an anti-piracy operation was in March. The International Maritime Bureau has noted that pirates are shifting their attacks away from the Gulf of Aden, possibly to the vast Indian Ocean where Seychelles is located.

The bureau's piracy reporting center has said attacks dropped to 44 between January and September, compared to 100 attacks during the same period last year. Patrols by an international flotilla of warships has helped ease attacks in the Gulf of Aden this year, said the bureau.

Further out to sea, Captain Jan Masny said the hijackers attacked the ship Sunday evening off Oman in the Arabian Sea.

Masny, speaking by phone from his ship, said watchmen spotted a skiff approaching their vessel and that everyone on board rushed into a steel-reinforced safe room. The Front Alfa, laden with crude oil, is continuing its journey to China. It is owned by Frontline, the world's largest oil tanker company.

Dag Christoffersen, managing director of V.Ships Norway, the company that manages the ship, said five pirates spent two hours trying in vain to break down the safe-room door. Eventually a Turkish warship and a French helicopter arrived to help the ship but by then the pirates had escaped, Christoffersen said.

During the 12-hour ordeal, no one was in control of the ship. But the failure of the pirates to seize the officers meant they had no way to navigate the ship themselves since it is a massive and complicated vessel.

Somali pirates are holding at least 16 ships and more than 300 crew members captive for ransom. Somalia's lawlessness during the past 19 years has allowed piracy to thrive off its Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden coastlines.

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Associated Press writer Vanessa Gera in Warsaw, Poland contributed to this report from Warsaw, Poland.