THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Dutch marines killed two pirates and captured 16 others during an operation to free a hijacked Iranian fishing boat off the coast of Somalia, the Defense Ministry said Monday.
The deadly firefight marked the first time Dutch forces have killed suspected pirates while patrolling the Gulf of Aden as part of an international anti-piracy flotilla.
Marines from the frigate HMS Tromp opened fire on the pirates on the hijacked Iranian boat Sunday after they shot at two Dutch inflatable speedboats sent to investigate the fishing vessel, the ministry said.
Ten suspected pirates were captured as they tried to flee in a high-speed skiff and six more were detained on the fishing boat. The bodies of two suspected pirates killed in the firefight also were recovered on the vessel.
Defense Ministry spokeswoman Marloes Visser said the pirates, some of whom were wounded in the shooting, were being questioned on board the Tromp. The injured were receiving medical treatment, but it was unclear if the captives would be taken anywhere for trial.
"It is not yet clear what will happen next. Prosecutors will have to decide," Visser told The Associated Press.
Wim de Bruin of the national prosecutor's office said Monday he had no information on the case.
Even as Dutch marines searched the Iranian dhow, another group of pirates approached, apparently intent on hijacking the boat, the Defense Ministry statement said. The crew of the Tromp fired warning shots to force the second group of pirates to flee.
The dhow and its crew were allowed to sail away from the scene of the attacks after the Dutch intervention.
After years of tentative action against pirates, the international armada sent to protect shipping in the gulf has become more assertive and willing to prosecute captured hijackers rather than let them go.
Last month, the Indian navy attacked in self-defense a fishing boat, which had been used by pirates as a mothership. Sixty-one pirates were captured and were taken to Mumbai, India's financial capital, to be prosecuted. And in 2009, U.S. Navy SEAL sharpshooters killed three pirates who were holding the American captain of the Maersk Alabama ship.
Last year, five Somalis were convicted of attacking a Dutch Antilles-flagged cargo ship with automatic weapons and a rocket-propelled grenade, in the first piracy case to come to trial in Europe in modern times. They are serving five-year prison sentences in a Dutch jail,
Five more Somali men suspected of hijacking a South African yacht last year also awaiting trial in a jail in the Netherlands.
Dutch marines have also captured 10 Somali men suspected of attacking a German container ship. They were sent to Hamburg last June. Their trial started last November and is expected to end later this year.
In the absence of a stable government in Somalia, piracy has flourished off the east African nation's coast in recent years. Pirates currently hold about 26 ships and close to 600 crew members.