London: Britain's Navy arrested seven suspected pirates after a helicopter-led chase in the Indian Ocean, the Ministry of Defence said on Friday.

The ministry said the RFA Fort Victoria ship was patrolling an area off the coast of Somalia and the Seychelles when it received information that a Spanish fishing vessel had come under attack by a group of pirate vessels.

A helicopter dispatched to investigate saw two suspect boats -- the faster of which, a skiff, sped off and forced the helicopter to give chase, the ministry said.

It said that when the skiff refused orders to stop, a sniper on the helicopter fired warning shots ahead of the boat, bringing the fleeing vessel to a halt.

"We could see the fishing vessel was clearly in trouble and our actions were decisive in disrupting the pirates from further attacks on the fishermen and eventually stopping them," said Lt Alastair Thompson, the royal navy flight commander in the operation.

The ministry said suspected pirates on board the skiff were then taken by boat to the Fort Victoria, and a royal marines boarding team inspected two other boats in the vicinity.

"As a result of the day's action, a total of seven suspected pirates were held onboard Fort Victoria along with their whaler as evidence, with no injuries being sustained by either side," it said in a statement.

The same ship, RFA Fort Victoria, in October was involved in the dramatic rescue of an Italian cargo ship that had been hijacked by Somali pirates. The ship responded along with US forces and helped bring 23 crew members to safety.

The Ministry of Defence confirmed that the Seychelles government granted permission to bring the suspected pirates to the islands for prosecution.

Britain's Foreign Office also said yesterday that a UK-trained police dog team had gathered vital evidence to help prosecute the suspected pirates and the information will be shared with the Seychelles Prosecutor, who will conduct further investigations.

It said a search by a Spaniel and a Labrador -- Diesel and Millie -- indicated that the alleged pirates' vessel "may contain traces of explosives or firearms."
Piracy is rife in the Indian Ocean, particularly off the coast of Somalia.

(Agencies)