Mumbai, March 27 (IANS) The Indian Navy and the Coast Guard Saturday thwarted yet another piracy attempt, apprehending 16 pirates operating west of the Lakshadweep Islands and freeing 16 hostages, a defence official said here Sunday.
'The Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre (MRCC) alerted the ships patrolling off Lakshadweep of a distress message of a pirate attack, received from merchant ship MV Maersk Kensington at about 11 a.m. Saturday,' the official said.
'A TU-142 maritime reconnaissance aircraft on patrol located the suspected pirate vessel and facilitated the INS Suvarna, on patrol in the area, to intercept the pirate vessel. Coast Guard Ship ICGS Sangram, also on patrol, was diverted for the operations,' he added.
The pirate vessel was identified as Morteza, an Iranian trawler hijacked by the pirates and being used as the mother vessel for piracy operations.
INS Suvarna asked the vessel to stop but the warnings went unheeded and the pirates instead opened fire.
'The pirate vessel Morteza opened fire on the naval ship. INS Suvarna then engaged the pirate vessel in self-defence, resulting in Morteza catching fire due to the fuel drums. The pirates and hostages jumped overboard,' the official said.
INS Suvarna quickly recovered the hostages and also launched a liferaft for the pirates. ICGS Sangram also joined the rescue operations.
'There were 16 Somali pirates and 16 hostages (crew members) of which 12 are Iranians and four Pakistanis,' the official said.
The pirates and the hostages will be brought to Mumbai by early next week by INS Suvarna.
The Indian Navy and Coast Guard as part of 'Operation Island Watch' have been maintaining surveillance off the Lakshadweep Islands over the past several months, resulting in the capture of a large number of pirates and the release of several hostages.