From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Thu Mar 26 2009 - 14:19:52 EST
Somali pirates seize two European tankers
* Two ships hijacked within 24 hours
* Pirates make mockery of international patrols
(Adds quotes, figures from piracy watchdog)
By Andrew Cawthorne
Thu Mar 26, 2009 6:56pm GMT
NAIROBI, March 26 (Reuters) - Suspected Somali pirates have hijacked two
European-owned tankers within 24 hours in the highest-profile strikes since
foreign navies deployed en masse to the region's busy sea lanes.
"These are the biggest attacks this year. The pirates are showing they are
very much alive," said Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarers
Assistance Programme, which monitors piracy in the region from the Kenyan
port of Mombasa.
The 9,000-tonne MT Nipayia, a Greek-owned and Panama-registered ship with 19
crew on aboard, was taken on Wednesday 450 miles east of Somalia's south
coast, the European Union and NATO said on piracy-monitoring websites.
The 23,000-tonne MT Bow Asir, a Norwegian-owned and Bahamian-registered
ship, was seized on Thursday 250 miles east of the south Somali coast, they
The attacks show that Somali pirate gangs remain undeterred by a flotilla of
ships from Western and Asian countries patrolling to try to prevent a repeat
of last year's unprecedented wave of hijackings.
Most of those ships are, however, concentrated in the Gulf of Aden, the
gateway to the Red Sea and Suez Canal, whereas the pirates are striking ever
further from the Somali coastline.
In another long-distance strike this week, pirates hijacked a yacht from the
Seychelles with two men on board. The boat was en route to Madagascar, well
south of Somali waters.
"The naval operation is very successful in the Gulf of Aden," Pottengal
Mukundan, director of the International Maritime Bureau piracy watchdog,
told Reuters. "These attacks have taken place off the east coast of
Citing information from other maritime organisations, Mwangura said the Bow
Asir was carrying caustic soda, whereas the Nipayia was empty or "in
Having made millions from ransoms in recent years, Somali pirate gangs are
using increasingly sophisticated boats and radar equipments to spot, chase
and capture other vessels.
"They are staying away from the security zone in the Gulf of Aden. They are
trying to destabilise the security system the foreign navies have set in
place," Mwangura said.
Typically, gangs operate from a "mother" ship that will launch faster
speedboats, full of armed men, to board the target. Most crews surrender
without a fight.
Two earlier high-profile cases were resolved earlier this year with the
release -- for $3 million each -- of a Saudi oil tanker and a Ukrainian boat
with tanks on board.
A record 42 boats were seized off Somalia throughout 2008, with a total 815
crew members taken hostage, according to figures from the International
Maritime Bureau. Seven ships have been seized so far this year.
An increase in insurance costs has made some shipping firms go round South
Africa rather than through the Suez Canal.
Mukundan said insurance costs had yet to come down because the number of
attacks remained high, but he noted the proportion of successful hijackings
had gone from 1 in 3 attacks in November to around 1 in 7 or 1 in 8 now.
Eager to protect some of the world's most important shipping lanes, the
United States, various European nations, Russia, India, China and Japan have
all sent ships to the waters.
"Once again, the Somali pirates are making fools of all of them," said a
diplomat who tracks the piracy phenomenon.
(Additional reporting by Raissa Kasolowsky in Dubai; editing by Matthew
C Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved
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