Swift intervention by a Malaysian naval helicopter on Thursday saved an Indian vessel from a hijack bid by armed pirates dressed in military attire in the Gulf of Aden region, off Somalia.
"Heavily armed pirates on two speed boats opened fire on the Indian tanker heading towards Suez Canal early this morning but sped away after a Malaysian frigate dispatched a helicopter to rescue the vessel," the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) chief Noel Choong told PTI in Kuala Lumpur.
No one was injured in the incident in which pirates dressed up in military attire rigged the tanker's bridge and accommodation bunks with machine gun and automatic fire.
The Malaysian helicopter did not fire at the pirates' speedboats, he said.
"This was the new year's gift to the owners of the Indian tankers. If the Malaysian warship had not arrived on the scene their tanker would have been hijacked," he said.
The Indian tanker carrying full load of oil was heading towards Suez Canal when it was attacked by Somali pirates, who came close and fired at it.
The tanker's captain took evasive measures and sent an SOS which was received by the Malaysian frigate KD Inderasakti which was only 15 nautical miles away, he said.
The frigate dispatched a light military helicopter which arrived within minutes and scared away the pirates' boats, Choong said.
"The attack on the mid sized 92687 ton tanker was the first pirate attack in the Gulf of Aden in 2009," Choong told PTI.
He said the attack happened around 0330 GMT (0900 IST) when two boats, one with seven armed pirates started firing at the Indian tanker's bridge and accommodation.
The captain sent out the distress call on channel 16 of the communication network," Choong said.
The Indian ship later followed the Malaysian frigate's convoy.
This has been the second time the Malaysian navy has come to the rescue of distressed vessels facing pirate attacks in the African waters. Earlier last month a Chinese vessel was saved by the Malaysian navy from pirates.
The Malaysian Navy warships are part of multi-national task force operating in the Gulf of Aden to stave off pirate attacks. Warships from more than more than dozen countries, including India, US, UK, EU, Germany and South Korea form the nucleus of this task force.
So far pirates, all of them suspected to be from Somalia have carried out more than 112 attacks in the African waters around the Gulf of Aden since the beginning of 2008.