The Danish navy has intercepted a cargo vessel that Somali pirates had hijacked in the Indian Ocean, freeing 16 of its crew members but two others died during the operation, an official said Tuesday.
The Danes also captured the 17 pirates involved during Monday's operation off the coast of Somalia, said navy spokesman Kenneth Nielsen.
The pirates had used the cargo ship as a mothership from which they sailed out in smaller boats to attack other vessels. It wasn't immediately clear how long the cargo ship had been held by the pirates, or the name of the vessel and its owners. The two fatalities were an Iranian and a Pakistani. The 16 freed crew members also were from Iran or Pakistan.
Nielsen said Denmark's HDMS Absalon intervened to stop the cargo ship when it tried to move away from the Somali coast and "become a threat against the shipping on the open sea."
The Danish forces fired warning shots, but the boat failed to stop, said Nielsen. Danish forces then opened fire on the ship after getting permission from the NATO command that oversees the multinational anti-piracy force in the area. Nielsen said the pirates surrendered and the Danes took control of the ship.
The Danish navy said in statement that two of the hostages "were found seriously injured and even with speedy assistance from Absalon's doctor, their lives could not be saved."
It wasn't clear how the hostages had been injured. Danish military prosecutors were investigating the incident, Nielsen said, adding that none of the pirates were wounded.
The HDMS Absalon joined NATO's Ocean Shield anti-piracy force in November.
On Jan. 7, its crew captured a suspected pirate mothership and rescued 14 hostages from Iran and Pakistan. They also arrested 25 suspected pirates _ 17 of whom were released. Eight others were handed over to Seychelles authorities and to Kenya for prosecution.
Piracy has emerged as a major threat to merchant ships in the sea lanes of the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea. Pirates based in Somalia have been hijacking ships and holding the vessels and their crew for ransom.