NAIROBI, Kenya — A U.S. destroyer hunted down a group of pirates who attacked a vessel in the Gulf of Aden with rocket-propelled grenades early Friday and chased them with a helicopter, officials said.
The helicopter from the USS Farragut watched the pirates throw items — possibly weapons — overboard. A boarding team confiscated pirate paraphernalia and the skiff was instructed to return to the Somali coast, the Combined Maritime Forces said in a statement.
The military said the pirates attacked the Thailand-flagged MV Thor Traveler with RPGs and rifles at 3 a.m. on a moonless morning.
That the pirates were set free underscores one of the problems the international community has not yet solved over the piracy issue: which country should take possession of the suspects and prosecute them.
The encounter was at least the fourth skirmish with pirates that U.S. warships have had in the last several weeks.
The Navy has captured at least 21 suspected pirates since March 31 in the violence-plagued waters off Somalia and nearby regions, where U.S. warships are part of an international anti-piracy flotilla. But no decision has yet been made on where or if the suspects will be tried.
Kenya this month began refusing to take suspects, saying the pirates were placing undue strain on its court system. A group of 10 suspected Somali pirates facing trial in Germany arrived in the Netherlands this week. Germany issued an arrest warrant for the men and plans to prosecute them, a rare instance of a European country putting pirates on trial.
Somalia itself is a failed state with no working justice system, although hundreds of pirates have been taken to the overcrowded prisons in the semiautonomous region of Puntland. A handful of captured pirates are also being held in Yemen and the Maldives.
Elsewhere off Somalia, a Spanish warship with the EU Naval Force tracked, boarded and destroyed a pirate mother ship on Thursday, the force said in a statement Friday.
The EU Naval Force said that the pirates told the military officials they were fishermen, but that the skiff had no fishing equipment on board, though it did have large amounts of fuel and ammunition.
The skiff was destroyed and the three pirates were taken to shore.
The EU Naval Force has stepped up its anti-piracy patrols near the coast of Somalia in an attempt to stop pirates before they reach deeper seas, where more attacks take place.
Hoping to win the millions of dollars in ransom that a successful hijacking can bring, pirates have increased attacks in recent months. But military officials say the pirates' success rate has gone down because of increased maritime patrols and security measures on ships.