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NATO frees hostages from Somali pirates

Dutch NATO commandos have freed 20 Yemeni fishermen and briefly detained seven pirates who had forced their captives to sail a "mother ship" attacking vessels in the Gulf of Aden.

A small boat with pirates on board

Another pirate "mother ship" was intercepted by French military officers on Wednesday

The hostages were rescued after a Dutch navy frigate on a NATO patrol responded to reports of a pirate assault on a Greek-managed tanker, NATO officials said on Saturday, April 18.

NATO Lieutenant Commander Alexandre Fernandes said the Dutch ship chased the pirates back to their "mother ship" - a Yemeni fishing dhow that's believed to have been hijacked last Thursday.

"We have freed the hostages, we have freed the dhow and we have seized the weapons," Fernandes said. "The pirates did not fight and no gunfire was exchanged."

Fernandes said the commandos briefly detained the seven gunmen for questioning, but could not confirm that they had been arrested.

"NATO does not have a detainment policy," he said. "The warship must follow its national law."

"They can only arrest them if the pirates are from the Netherlands, the victims are from the Netherlands, or if they are in Netherlands waters."

Dutch authorities already have five Somali pirates in custody. They're awaiting trial in what would be the first such prosecution in the Netherlands. The men were captured as they allegedly attacked a Dutch cargo ship in January in the Gulf of Aden.

Belgian ship feared hijacked

A Dutch NATO frigate

Dutch NATO forces are currently patrolling the waters in the Gulf of Aden

Meanwhile a Belgian-registered ship with a 10-member international crew is suspected to have been hijacked by Somali pirates.

"We have hijacked a Belgian ship," an unnamed pirate source told Reuters in Mogadischu by satellite telephone. "We will take it to Haradheere," he said, referring to a port located on the cost of central Somalia.

A spokesman from the Belgian government crisis center said the ship - identified as the dredging vessel, the Pompei - sent out two distress signals early on Saturday when it was about 600 kilometers (370 miles) from the Somali coast.

Authorities have not been able to make contact with it since, and satellite pictures showed that the ship was not moving.

An emergency meeting between senior government and shipping officials has been convened in Brussels.

A question of political stability

President Obama with a pirate symbol

US President Barack Obama says his country will also up efforts to reduce piracy

Somali pirates have already attacked more than 80 boats this year, while 15 cargo ships and nearly 300 crew members are currently being held hostage.

Regional analysts and security experts say that without political stability in Somalia, which has been mired in conflict for 18 years, the pirate gangs will continue to thrive.

Most of Somalia's pirate gangs operate from the semi-autonomous northern region of Puntland, where many of them say they first took to the seas to stop illegal fishing by European fleets and the dumping of toxic waste.

The Somali government plans to present its proposals to combat the sea gangs at a Somali donors' meeting in Brussels next week.

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