A Canadian warship has had a busy weekend on the Arabian Sea, thwarting a pirate attack and delivering supplies to a boatload of Somali refugees all in the same 24-hour period.

On Saturday, HMCS Winnipeg, currently involved in an anti-pirate NATO mission called Operation Allied Protector, saw three skiffs approaching an Indian merchant vessel.

The Pacific Opal radioed for help and Cmdr. Craig Baines, the commanding officer of the Canadian warship, sent out a Sea King helicopter to investigate.

Baines told CTV Newsnet that HMCS Winnipeg got the call for help while it was busy escorting another ship.

"We were actually escorting another vessel at the time when we noticed that another ship launched three smaller vessels that rapidly closed in on a merchant vessel that was nearby in the area," he said Sunday.

Pilot Maj. James Hawthorne said the pirates complied with Canadian instructions, which came in the form of a sign hanging from the side of the helicopter with the word "Stop" written in Somali.

"Whatever their intentions were, they complied without instructions and allowed the merchant vessel to proceed," Hawthorne said, when quoted in a military statement that was released Saturday.

Baines said the helicopter shadowed the suspected pirate skiffs for about 15 minutes in total.

"After we've deterred something, if they haven't actually done an act of piracy, which in this case they hadn't because we intervened beforehand, we usually just let them carry on and try to monitor their position," Baines said.

Few pirates would engage a military ship or helicopter, he said, because the risks are too high.

"The fortunate thing is that the pirates want nothing to do with warships or helicopters," Baines said.

"They are in this for economic gain only and so they know that if they ever tried to engage a ship or a helicopter, it would end badly for them."

Afterward, the HMCS Winnipeg crew got a thank you message from the crew on board the Pacific Opal, Baines said.

Lieut. Gen. Michel Gauthier said the incident "highlights the importance of our mission and the efforts to make a difference with our coalition partners in the fight against piracy and international terrorism."

HMCS Winnipeg saw further action on Sunday when it brought supplies to a boatload of Somali refugees who were hungry and thirsty after being at sea for two days.

The warship has a crew of some 240 officers and non-commissioned members and is based out of Esquimalt, B.C.

It has been at sea since February and is scheduled to return to B.C. in August.

With files from The Canadian Press