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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

An international fleet of warships is hoping to detain a few pirates off the coast of Somalia. We've been hearing a lot about them lately, bandits carrying out their attacks using speedboats launched from what look like ordinary fishing vessels. As the foreign navies are learning, it's not always easy to tell a pirate from a merchant sailor. NPR's Corey Flintoff is aboard a French warship inspecting suspicious vessels in the Gulf of Aden.

COREY FLINTOFF: At first glance the ship looked like an ordinary fishing trawler, riding the swells within sight of the mountainous Somalia coast. But sailors aboard the French frigate Premier Maitre L'Her had some questions. This is Brice Bourgeois(ph), the executive officer.

BRICE BOURGEOIS: The ship was pretty strange because we are in an area with a lot of pirates and not far from Kalula, which is one of the center of piracy. That's why we decide to see why this ship was so close from the coast with so much pirates.

FLINTOFF: The ship's captain, Alexis Beatrix, sent a boarding party to inspect the vessel, which identified itself as a South Korean fishing boat. There was an immediate red flag, guns on board.

ALEXIS BEATRIX: Investigation made on board has shown that the crew of this fishing vessel had some weapons for their own self-defense, and that they were totally, perfectly aware of the risk they were taking by fishing in this area.

FLINTOFF: There's no direct evidence that the vessel is involved in piracy, so it must be allowed to go about its business. Ensin Cedric Carneau, who led the boarding party, said there are still questions in his mind.

ENSIN CEDRIC CARNEAU: (Through Translator): But what we don't know is if this fisherman can become a pirate in the next day, it's the issue.

FLINTOFF: Whether the captain of the fishing boat is an innocent but reckless bystander or someone who's connected to the pirates, he and his vessel are now on a database kept by the naval coalition, and he knows he'll be watched. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, the Gulf of Aden.

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