U.S. Gunships Battle Pirates Who Seized Ships Off Somalia, Mogadishu

American warships battled pirates Tuesday who had seized a tanker off the coast of Somalia as well as another vessel northeast of Mogadishu, combined reports said.

In the waters off Somalia, the warships reportedly sunk two pirate vessels and pursued a hijacked skiff carrying some of the fleeing hijackers.

The crew of the tanker Golden Mori, which was hijacked Sunday night, reportedly fought back and overpowered their attackers, regaining control of the vessel, maritime officials said.

On Sunday, the destroyer USS Porter responded to a distress call from the Golden Mori that it was under attack from two pirate skiffs in international waters off the coast of Somalia near the Socotra islands in the Indian Ocean. The destroyer, on loan to an international task force aimed at stopping piracy and terror in the region, responded with deadly force, sinking both vessels, officials said.

The Porter's sister ship, the USS Arleigh Burke, reportedly was pursuing the escaping hijackers and providing an escort for the Japanese-owned tanker.

Off Mogadishu, the crew of the Dai Hong Dan had control of the steering and engineering spaces of the ship, and the pirates had seized the bridge, the Combined Maritime Forces Public Affairs Office reported.

Corpsmen from the USS James E. Williams, an Arleigh-Burke-class destroyer operating as part of the maritime coalition, and a boarding team, provided medical aid and other support as to the Korean vessel's crew.

The crew reported five pirates were captured and two were dead.

The Combined Maritime Forces Headquarters, based in Bahrain, received a call from the International Maritime Bureau in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Tuesday morning.

Williams crew contacted the pirates via bridge-to-bridge radio when it arrived near the ship and ordered them to give up their weapons.

It was at this time the Korean crew launched an overthrow to take back control.

There were conflicting reports regarding the Golden Mori's registry, with reports saying it was flying a Panamanian flag, while other reports saying it either was a North or South Korean registered ship.

Nearly two dozen of the Golden Mori's crew members reportedly were able to fight off the eight gunmen who had seized the vessel late Monday, and the crew was piloting the ship back to the war-battered city's port in Mogadishu, said Andrew Mwangura, program coordinator of the Seafarers Assistance Program, which independently monitors piracy in the region.

An international watchdog reported this month that pirate attacks worldwide jumped 14 percent in the first nine months of 2007, with the biggest increases off the poorly policed waters of Somalia and Nigeria.

Reported attacks in Somalia rose rapidly to 26, up from eight a year earlier, the London-based International Maritime Bureau said through its piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. And some of those hijackings have turned deadly.

Somalia has had 16 years of violence and anarchy, and is now led by a government battling to establish authority even in the capital. Its coasts are virtually unpoliced.

Piracy off Somalia increased this year after Ethiopian forces backing Somali government troops ousted an Islamic militia in December, said Andrew Mwangura, program coordinator of the Seafarers Assistance Program which independently monitors piracy in the region.

During the six months that the Council of Islamic Courts ruled most of southern Somalia, where Somali pirates are based, piracy abated, Mwangura said.

At one point, the Islamic group said it was sending scores of fighters to crack down on pirates there. Islamic fighters even stormed a hijacked, UAE-registered ship and recaptured it after a gunbattle in which pirates -- but no crew members -- were reportedly wounded.

In May, pirates complaining their demands had not been met killed a crew member a month after seizing a Taiwan-flagged fishing vessel off Somalia's northeastern coast.

Pirates even targeted vessels on humanitarian missions, such as the MV Rozen which was hijacked in February soon after it had delivered food aid to northeastern Somalia. The ship and its crew were released in April. France has offered naval vessels to escort ships carrying World Food Program food to Mogadishu beginning in November.

Indonesia remained the world's worst piracy hotspot, with 37 attacks in the first nine months of 2007. But that was an improvement from 40 in the same period a year earlier, IMB said.

The IMB said Southeast Asia's Malacca Strait, one of the world's busiest waterways, has been relatively quiet with 198 attacks on ships reported between January and September, up from 174 in the same period in 2006.

It said 15 vessels were hijacked, 63 crew members kidnapped and three killed.

Oil-rich Nigeria suffered 26 pirate attacks so far this year, up from nine in the same period last year.