European Union warships have captured seven suspected pirates off the coast of Somalia after two fast boats attacked a French fishing vessel, the EU's naval force said Wednesday.
Soldiers aboard the fishing vessel fired on the pirates after they attacked it some 350 nautical miles east of Mogadishu Tuesday, said a statement.
A German warship was despatched to the scene, while a helicopter from a nearby Spanish naval vessel -- the ESPS Canarias -- was launched and located the two skiffs trying to flee the area.
"The helicopter fired warning shots to stop both skiffs, after which the pirates stopped and were seen throwing items, presumably pirate paraphernalia, overboard," the statement said.
The seven were arrested by personnel from the German warship -- FGS Karlsruhe -- when it arrived in the area, after the fishing boat had been called back to the scene to try to identify the attackers.
The incident came on the same day that Somali pirates said they had hijacked a small sailing yacht with two foreigners on board, most likely a British couple reported missing since leaving the Seychelles last week.
Ecoterra International, an environmental group closely monitoring maritime activity off Somalia, said the yacht was spotted Tuesday around 30 kilometres (18 miles) south of Hobyo, pirate town north of Harardhere, central Somalia.
Since last year a flotilla of foreign warships has been patrolling the piracy-plagued Gulf of Aden, one of the globe's busiest maritime trade routes.
Pirates have since redeployed to the Indian Ocean, a much wider area very difficult for naval forces to patrol effectively.
Since the start of October, subsiding monsoon winds have allowed pirates equipped with small skiffs to resume their operations in earnest after a lull that had seen the number of hijacked vessels drop to two.
Among their latest catches are an Indian cargo ship, a Spanish trawler with a crew of 36, a Singapore container ship with 21 crew members and a Chinese bulk carrier with a crew of 25.