NATO said it is working to strengthen its anti-piracy task force operating off the coast of Somalia.

A NATO spokesman, James Appathurai, on Wednesday said the alliance has asked its military planners to come up with a stronger mandate and new rules of engagement for the mission.

He said a key issue is determining how to deal with captured pirates.  NATO ships in recent weeks have captured several boatloads of suspected pirates but had to release them because of  legal concerns.

Earlier Wednesday, Russian defense minister Anatoly Serdyukov said Moscow is still deciding what to do with a boatload of suspected pirates captured by a Russian warship off the coast of Somalia. He said Russian authorities will decide on their fate soon.

The defense ministry said the crew of the Russian warship Admiral Panteleyev late Tuesday captured a suspected pirate vessel about 1,500 kilometers off the coast of Somalia and detained the 29 people on board. The minister said the Russian crew found weapons and ammunition aboard the boat, as well as other gear used for seizing vessels.

In the Seychelles, officials said nine suspected pirates allegedly linked to Saturday's attack on an Italian cruise ship may be tried locally. The alleged pirates were handed over to officials in the Seychelles after being captured and detained Monday by the crew of a Spanish warship.

Other suspected pirates have been handed over to Kenya to be put on trial.  One of the suspects accused of hijacking the Maersk Alabama and holding its captain hostage has been transferred to New York to face charges in a U.S. court.

Meanwhile, the owner of the U.S.-flagged container ship Maersk Alabama, which was briefly hijacked by pirates earlier this month, said it is tightening restrictions on its vessels traveling in the region in a bid to avoid more pirate attacks.

The Danish shipping company A.P. Moller-Maersk said it has expanded the area in the Gulf of Aden where it allows only ships of a certain size and speed to enter.  It is instructing them to spend as little time in the region as possible, and to sail through it at maximum speed. 


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