Madagascar has detained a dozen suspected Somali pirates after a vessel they hijacked off Tanzania in November ran out of fuel and supplies, a maritime official from the Indian Ocean island said.

The skipper of the stricken Comoran vessel MV Aly Zulfecar made an emergency call to Comoros on February 21. After a two-day search and rescue mission, Madagascar's maritime authorities towed the 40-metre (131 feet) passenger boat to Diego Suarez on the northern tip of Madagascar.

The 12 suspected pirates were without arms and identification papers which had been thrown in the sea, a statement from Madagascar's maritime operation centre said.

Somali pirates, who have raked in tens of millions of dollars from ransoms, typically deploy hijacked vessels like the MV Aly Zulfecar as mother ships from which they launch attacks in faster moving skiffs.

By using mother ships, the pirates have extended their range as far east as the Maldives and as far south as Madagascar, persistently outwitting a fleet of foreign warships.

Madagascar said it rescued 21 Tanzanian and Comoran passengers from the boat.