Authorities in Madagascar have detained 12 suspected Somali pirates, after a vessel they hijacked ran out of fuel off the island nation's northern coast.

The pirates were detained this week when Madagascar's navy towed the hijacked MV Zulfecar to a northern port.  Pirates had seized the ship in November as it sailed from the Comoros islands toward Tanzania.  

The vessel sent out a distress signal early last week.  Madagascar's navy conducted a search and rescue mission that found the ship adrift in the Indian Ocean.

Navy officials say the pirates on board were unarmed and did not put up any resistance.

The operation rescued more than 20 passengers and crewmembers who had spent the last four months at sea with the pirates.

It was not clear why the pirates did not take the ship to Somalia.  Pirates have used some captured vessels as so-called mother ships to launch attacks on commercial shipping.

On Monday, Somali pirates were reported to have freed one ship while hijacking two others.  The newly-hijacked ships included a private yacht carrying seven Danish nationals, including three children.

Somali pirates have hijacked dozens of ships over the last few years, and taken in hundreds of millions of dollars in ransom money.  The European Union's anti-piracy force says the pirates are currently holding more than 30 ships and nearly 700 hostages.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.