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International Crackdown on Somali Piracy Gaining Pace

A battle is being waged against the Somalian pirates who've been wreaking havoc in the Gulf of Aden. But as international warships thwart more attacks, the question arises of what to do with the pirates they capture.

German marines in a inflatable craft off the coast of Somalia

Armed and serious: German marines have been called into action as part of the force

The first days of 2009 have seen a spate of pirate attacks off the Somalian coast, but a crackdown on rampant piracy by EU nations as well as the US, China, India, Malaysia, Turkey and Russia means many of the bandits' hijacking attempts are being thwarted.

The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur has confirmed five attacks so far this year. The first was on New Year's Day when a Malaysian warship helped Indian seamen fight off heavily-armed bandits attempting to board an oil tanker.

The second came just an hour later, when attackers managed to hijack an Egyptian cargo ship. Several hours later a Greek bulk carrier was fired on, but the captain took evasive measures and managed to escape, said Noel Choong, the head of the IMB reporting center.

On January 2, at least five pirates attacked a German tanker, firing their machine guns at the ship which had 21 crew members on board.

"The captain increased the ship's speed along with other manoeuvres and managed to escape," Choong told news agency AFP.

In a fifth incident, a Greek tanker was fired on but the pirates fled when a Spanish aircraft arrived at the scene.

Danish, French forces capture pirates

German marines demonstrate speedboat manoeuvres

EU marines have been hunting pirates since December

Other incidents have not yet been confirmed by the IMB. The Danish navy said one of its anti-piracy warships came to the rescue of a Dutch cargo ship on Friday and rescued five pirates after they were forced into the water. The Dutch foreign ministry has not yet reached a decision on the fate of the pirates, who continue to be held onboard the Danish navy vessel.

Also on Friday, French forces handed over eight pirates to Somali authorities after they responded to a distress signal from a Panamanian cargo ship being pursued by bandits. And on Sunday, a French warship foiled a further two hijacking attempts on cargo vessels, intercepting 19 pirates who will also be transferred to Somali authorities, the French president's office said.

France has been particularly active in the fight against piracy in the vital shipping lanes that link Europe to Asia. Since last April, French forces have arrested 29 pirates.

Foreign trials are risky

Some are in France awaiting trial. But the pirates picked up on Friday were delivered to security personnel in Puntland -- a semi-autonomous region that has become a base for the pirates earning millions of dollars in ransoms.

Puntland soldiers escort eight suspected pirates in Somalia's northern port town of Bosasso, Friday, Jan.2, 2009.

Suspected pirates may have links to Puntland officials

Some analysts say that bringing the pirates to Puntland is pointless as officials there are complicit in the attacks. But Puntland authorities deny any involvement and point to some 96 pirates in the region's jails.

"There is a diplomatic agreement whereby the Somali authorities are committed to prosecuting and punishing (pirates)," said Christophe Prazuck, spokesman for the French armed forces.

Some nations say trying pirates abroad is also problematic as they might face the prospect of extraditing them to Somalia where piracy carries the death penalty.

British, Spanish journalists freed

In a separate development, two journalists who were in Somalia to report on piracy for England's Daily Telegraph were released on Sunday after almost six weeks in captivity.

British writer Colin Freeman and Spanish photographer Jose Cendon were seized on November 26 on thier way to the airport in Bosasso, Puntland's economic capital. Two Somali journalists who were assisting them were also kidnapped, but there has been no word of their whereabouts.

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