Another brazen band of Somali pirates tried to strike late Saturday evening, firing wildly at an Italian cruise ship with 1,500 people on board -- but this time, the crew fought back.
Heroic private security forces aboard luxury cruise liner the Melody stopped the high-seas bandits from boarding their ship about 500 miles east of Somalia, brandishing pistols and water hoses that kept the pirates from clambering on-deck.
Six pirates in a small, white, "Zodiac type" boat approached the Melody Saturday and began opened fire with automatic weapons, members of the cruise-ship crew said.
The pirates tried to put a ladder up and board the boat -- but crew members reacted quickly and began firing back at the Somalis.
"They were starting to climb up but we reacted, we started to fire ourselves," the ship's commander, Ciro Pinto, told Italian state radio. "When they saw our fire, and also the water from the water hoses that we started to spray toward the Zodiac, they left and went away."
"It felt like we were in war."
After the gunfight, the some 1,000 passengers were asked to return to their cabins as crew members turned off the external lights and sailed away from the pirates.
None of the passengers or crew members were hurt, said Domenico Pellegrino, director of MSC Cruises, the company behind the Melody.
"It was an emergency operation," said Pellegrino, who said the pirates were shocked by the crew members' quick thinking.
"They didn't expect such a quick response. They were surprised," he said.
The attack occurred about 200 miles (325 kilometers) north of the Seychelles, and about 500 miles (800 kilometers) east of Somalia, according to the anti-piracy flotilla headquarters of the Maritime Security Center Horn of Africa.
The distance from Somalia shores means that pirates are traveling "further and further" away from their homeland -- and could be branching out in preparation for more attacks, said Lt. Nathan Christensen, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy 5th Fleet.
There has been a "definite shift in [the pirates] tactical capabilities," he said.
Saturday's exchange of fire between the Melody and pirates was one of the first reported between pirates and a nonmilitary ship.
Civilian shipping and passenger ships have generally avoided arming crewmen or hiring armed security for reasons of safety, liability and compliance with the rules of the different countries where they dock.
In November, pirates opened fire on a U.S.-operated ship, the Nautica, which was taking 650 passengers and 400 crew members on a monthlong luxury cruise from Rome to Singapore. The cruise liner was able to outrun the pirates. In early April a tourist yacht was hijacked by Somali pirates near the Seychelles just after having dropped off its cargo of tourists.
The Melody was on a 22-day cruise from Durban, South Africa, to Genoa, Italy, when the pirates attacked late Saturday.
The Spanish warship SPS Marques de Ensenada met up with the Melody to escort her through the pirate-infested northern Gulf of Aden after the attacks, the Maritime Security Center said. The cruise ship was headed as scheduled to the Jordanian port of Aqaba, returning to the Mediterranean for spring and summer season cruises.