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Pirates take ninth vessel of the month

Latest update : 2009-04-14

Somali pirates have taken a Greek vessel, the ninth hijacking in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean since the start of the month, despite two deadly raids in recent days by US and French special forces to save their colleagues.

REUTERS - Pirates hijacked a Greek-owned bulk carrier on Tuesday in a rare moonlit seizure off Somalia's coast, the latest attack on commercial shipping in the vital waterways, NATO alliance officials said.


The brazen capture of the MV Irene E.M. hours before dawn was a clear sign the sea gangs planned to continue their crime wave despite two deadly raids in recent days by U.S. and French special forces targeting their colleagues.


NATO Lieutenant Commander Alexandre Fernandes said the Portuguese warship NRP Corte-Real had received a distress call from the St. Vincent and the Grenadines-flagged merchant ship as it travelled through the Gulf of Aden.


"There was only three minutes between the alarm and the hijack," Fernandes told Reuters aboard the warship.


"(The pirates) attacked at night, which was very unusual. They were using the moonlight as it's still quite bright."


Heavily armed gunmen from the failed Horn of Africa state have run amok through the busy shipping lanes of the Indian Ocean and strategic Gulf of Aden, capturing dozens of vessels and making off with millions of dollars in ransoms.


NATO officials said a Canadian warship had sent a helicopter to investigate what was happening.


"There are hostages so now we will shadow and monitor the situation," Fernandes said.


The regional East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme said there were no immediate details of the Greek ship's crew.


Foreign navies stalk the high seas off Somalia. But the pirates have continued to evade capture, driving up insurance rates and defying the world's most powerful militaries.


U.S. Navy snipers aboard a U.S. destroyer freed an American ship captain on Sunday by killing three Somali pirates holding him hostage in a lifeboat, ending a five-day standoff.


Some fear the bloody assaults by Washington and Paris to free their hostages may raise the risk of future bloodshed. The pirates have vowed to take revenge on U.S. and French citizens.


So far, the sea gangs have generally treated their captives well in the hope of fetching big ransom payouts. Piracy is lucrative in chaotic Somalia, where the brigands armed with assault rifles and grenade launchers have thrived.


Date created : 2009-04-14