Sri Lankan military officials say Tamil Tiger boats have attacked a foreign merchant ship in the seas off northern Sri Lanka, sparking a fierce battle with the Sri Lankan navy.
The military says about 20 Tamil Tiger gunboats, including a suicide boat, were involved in the attack. The Sri Lankan navy called in air support and at least one Tamil vessel was sunk.
The fate of the merchant ship's crew was not immediately known.
The fighting centered around a point about eight kilometers off of the port of Point Pedro on the northern Jaffna peninsula.
A pro-Tamil website confirmed the battle took place, but did not confirm the sinking of the Tamil boat.
It said the cargo ship had brought supplies to government troops and Sri Lankan civilians.
Fighting between Tamil rebels and government troops has escalated since last year, despite a 2002 peace deal.
The rebels have been fighting since 1983 for an independent homeland in northern and eastern Sri Lanka. They say Tamils have been victimized for decades by the country's Sinhalese ethnic majority.
The conflict has killed about 67,000 people.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.