File photo - A Dhow is pictured from the German Frigate 'Hamburg' in open waters off the coast of Somalia.

Brussels -

Dutch sailors taking part in NATO's pirate-busting operation Ocean Shield helped rescue the crew of a Somali dhow hijacked by pirates in the Gulf of Aden, NATO said on Tuesday.

In the operation early on Monday, a Dutch navy transport vessel “disrupted a suspected pirate group before they could launch an attack on a merchant ship” from the hijacked dhow, NATO said in a statement.

Several suspects were arrested and the crew of the dhow is safe and sound, NATO said without elaborating.

The hijacked dhow had been in the sights of various vessels taking part in Ocean Shield including the Dutch transport vessel. The operation was led jointly with a unit from the European Union Naval Force's operation Atalanta, the statement said.

After a spike at the start of the last decade, successful pirate attacks on commercial vessels off the Horn of Africa have diminished.

Twenty-eight attacks were recorded in the first half of 2011, three in the second half and five since January, according to Atalanta statistics.

Pirates currently control seven ships with about 213 crew members aboard, compared with 20 ships and 550 sailors a year ago.

More than 1 000 pirates are awaiting trial or have been sentenced in 20 countries. - Sapa-AFP