DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A U.S. warship captured six suspected pirates Saturday after a battle off the Horn of Africa – the Navy's third direct encounter with seafaring bandits in less than two weeks.
The Navy has taken 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.
A statement by the U.S. Navy said the suspected pirates began shooting at the amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland just before dawn about 380 miles (610 kilometers) off Djibouti, a small nation facing Yemen across the mouth of the Red Sea.
The Navy said the Ashland returned fire and the suspected pirate skiff was destroyed. All six people on board were rescued and taken aboard the Ashland.
The Ashland suffered no injuries or damage in the second recent attack on a U.S. warship by suspected pirates.
On March 31, the frigate USS Nicholas exchanged fire with a suspected pirate vessel west of the Seychelles, sinking their skiff and confiscating a mother ship. Five suspected pirates were captured.
On Monday, the destroyer USS McFaul responded to the distress call from a merchant vessel and captured 10 other suspected pirates.
The Navy said it was reviewing "multiple options" on the suspects' fates.
Some suspected pirates have been turned over to Kenya for trial, but there has been some reluctance by African nations to become a center for prosecutions. In December, the Dutch government released 13 suspected Somali pirates after the European Union failed to find a country willing to prosecute them.
One of the suspected pirates accused of attacking the U.S.-flagged merchant ship Maersk Alabama last year is facing trial in the United States.
At the United Nations, Russia has introduced a draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council that calls for strengthening the international legal system to ensure captured Somali pirates do not escape punishment.
In Turkey, a news agency reported Saturday that Somali pirates have abandoned a commandeered Turkish ship.
The Dogan agency quoted Fatih Kabal, an official of Bergen Shipping based in Istanbul, as saying the pirates left the MV Yasin C, which was seized Wednesday 250 miles (400 kilometers) off the Kenyan coast.
Kabal said the crew had locked themselves in the engine room and realized that the pirates had left the ship on Friday. He said crew members, who were unharmed, took the damaged ship to the Kenyan port of Mombasa.
Somali pirates have been known to give up on ships they believe have no ransom value, such as vessels owned or hired by Somali traders.
Meanwhile, the owner of a hijacked supertanker has begun negotiations for the ship's release, a South Korean Foreign Ministry official said on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the talks. Repeated calls to the vessel operator, South Korea-based Samho Shipping, seeking comment went unanswered on Saturday night. The vessel is owned by a Singaporean company.
A South Korean naval destroyer that had been monitoring the ship began sailing away from the pirates Saturday and heading back toward the Gulf of Aden after the pirates warned the sailors not to come any closer.
Authorities say Somali pirates hijacked the 300,000-ton Samho Dream in the Indian Ocean on April 4. The ship was transporting crude oil worth about $160 million from Iraq to the U.S. with a crew of 24 South Koreans and Filipinos.
More than a dozen ships and their crew are believed to be currently held by pirates off the lawless coast of Somalia.
Associated Press writer Kwang-tae Kim contributed to this report from Seoul, South Korea.