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Somali pirates hijack US-flagged container ship

Latest update : 2009-04-08

In the sixth hijacking incident in five days, Somali pirates seized a US-flagged ship on Wednesday with 20 American crew on board off the coast of the war-torn African country.


AFP - Somali pirates seized a Danish-owned and US-flagged ship off Somalia on Wednesday with 20 American crew on board, the US Navy and the shipowner said, in the sixth maritime hijacking in five days.

"A US-flagged Danish-owned ship was attacked at around 7:30 local time this morning, 240 nautical miles southeast of the Somali town of Eyl," Lieutenant Nathan Schaeffer, a spokesman for the navy's Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet told AFP."

Maersk shipping line said the container vessel Maersk Alabama, belonging to the US subsidiary of Maersk, "was attacked by pirates and presumed hijacked" at around 0500 GMT.

"The US-flagged vessel has a crew of 20 US nationals and is owned and operated by Maersk Line, Limited in the US," a statement added.

The vessel was en route to the Kenyan port of Mombasa when it was attacked, Maersk said. The 155-metre-long (511-foot) vessel is carrying cereals and food supplies destined for, among others, the United Nations.

The United States underscored its concerns after the latest seizure.

"We've seen the reports," said Megan Mattson, a State Department spokeswoman in Washington. "Recent acts of piracy off the Somali coast are a continuing concern."

Only on Tuesday, the multinational naval task force working to protect shipping in the region warned merchant ships plying the waters off Somalia to increase their vigilance in the light of an increase in pirate attacks.

The warning, issued by the Fifth Fleet, highlighted attacks hundreds of miles from Somalia and said "merchant mariners should be increasingly vigilant when operating in those waters."

"We continue to highlight the importance of preparation by the merchant mariners and the maritime industry," US Vice Admiral Bill Gortney, commander of the Combined Maritime Forces, said in a statement.

"We synchronise the efforts of the naval forces deployed to the region. However, as we have often stated, international naval forces alone will not be able to solve the problem of piracy at sea. Piracy is a problem that starts ashore."

Among attacks over the past few days, Somali pirates hijacked a British-owned cargo ship, a German container carrier, a Taiwanese fishing boat, a Yemeni tugboat and a small French yacht with a three-year-old boy on board.

"Despite increased naval presence in the region, ships and aircraft are unlikely to be close enough to provide support to vessels under attack. The scope and magnitude of problem can not be understated," the statement said.

It said the area involved covers an area roughly four times the size of Texas -- or the size of the Mediterranean and Red Seas combined.

But despite successful recent attacks, it said "merchant mariners have proven successes as first line defenders against pirates" with some having used "evasive manoeuvering and other defensive measures to protect their ships and their cargoes."

Among those measures were turning fire hoses on attackers, firing flares at them or rigging barbed wire along the sides of the ship to prevent pirates from boarding.

More than 130 attacks, including close to 50 successful hijackings, were reported in 2008. Most were in the Gulf of Aden, where 16,000 ships bottle-neck into the Red Sea each year on one of the world's busiest maritime trade routes.

At least 18 ships and more than 250 hostages are now in pirate hands.

Despite the past week's spate of attacks, their number and success rate has declined slightly since the start of the year, attributed to unfavourable sea conditions and an increased foreign naval presence in the Gulf of Aden.

Date created : 2009-04-08