MOGADISHU // A pirate in Somalia has threatened Indian sailors and the government with targeted attacks in retaliation for the arrests of dozens of pirates who fled a high seas battle.
The marauders, living on a hijacked ship serving as a roving pirate base, jumped into the Arabian Sea after the Indian navy fired on the vessel in self-defence on Monday. The navy captured 61 pirates fleeing the battle, which served as the latest example of the piracy trade's turn towards increased violence.
Bile Hussein, a self-described pirate in Somalia, said: "They better release them, considering their people travelling in the waters, or we shall jail their people like that.
"We are first sending a message to the Indian government of releasing our friends in their hands or else they have to be ready for their citizens to be mistreated in the near future."
The Indian navy's third anti-piracy operation this year followed the capture of 28 Somali pirates last month and a further 15 in January. Both groups are to be prosecuted in Mumbai.
Indian warships have been escorting merchant ships as part of international anti-piracy surveillance in the area since 2008.
Several nations, including the United States, are prosecuting pirate suspects captured by their militaries. But other suspects have been released as countries weigh legal issues and other factors.
The prosecutions, the growth of criminal gangs participating in piracy and the ever-increasing ransoms have heightened confrontations.
Five Puntland security forces and two pirates were killed this month during a failed attempt to rescue Danish captives taken from their hijacked yacht to a pirate stronghold in the semi-autonomous northern region of Somalia.
Weeks earlier, four US citizens on a hijacked yacht were killed by pirates under circumstances that are still unclear. Four US navy vessels were shadowing the captured boat at the time, and 15 pirate suspects were taken into custody after the gunfire.
Monday's battle took place after an Indian patrol aircraft spotted the pirate's mother ship on Friday while responding to another vessel reporting a pirate attack, the Indian navy said. The pirates aborted the hijacking attempt and tried to escape on the mother ship.
When the Indian ships closed in Sunday night, the pirates fired on them. The hijacked vessel caught fire when the Indian navy returned fire, the navy said.
The pirates had hijacked the Mozambique-flagged Vega 5 in December and had used it as a mother ship. Indian sailors rescued 13 crew members from the Vega 5 on Sunday night about 1,100 kilometres off Kochi in southern India, the statement said.
The pirates were carrying about 80 to 90 small arms or rifles and a few heavier weapons, probably rocket-propelled grenades, it said. The statement did not describe any casualties among the navy, the fishermen or the pirates in Sunday's clash.
Piracy has plagued the shipping industry off East Africa for years, but violence and ransom demands have escalated in recent months. Pirates held 30 ships and more than 660 hostages as of February.
In the United States on Monday, five Somali men convicted of attacking a navy ship were sentenced to life in prison, the harshest sentences yet for accused pirates as the United States tries to halt piracy off Africa's coast.
Before the Somalis were convicted late last year, the last US conviction for piracy was in 1819 in Virginia and involved a Spanish vessel. US piracy law was based on that case.
The five men also were sentenced to an additional 80 years in prison on other charges related to the attack last April 1 on the USS Nicholas. Some plan an appeal.
* Associated Press