28 June 2009

Pirates Release Crew of Belgian Ship

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BRUSSELS (AP) -- Somali pirates have released the entire crew of a Belgian ship seized 10 weeks ago after a ransom was paid, the Belgian government said Sunday.

The 10-member crew of the Pompei dredger was in good health and sailing the ship to an unidentified harbor where it will arrive in a few days, the government said. The crew members will then fly home to their families.

Defense Minister Pieter De Crem told a news conference that the ship's owners paid a ransom to release the ship and crew. He declined to say how much, but said pirates had demanded $8 million.

A plane dropped the money into the sea near the Belgian vessel Saturday, De Crem said. About 10 pirates on board abandoned the ship early Sunday.

The ship, its Dutch captain and crew of two Belgians, three Filipinos and four Croatians were seized April 18 a few hundred miles north of the Seychelles islands as they were sailing from Dubai to South Africa.

The pirates took the ship to the Somali coast where they and the crew stayed on board.

Belgian officials said the ship's owners negotiated the release with a middleman who sometimes passed on messages from the captain.

The pirates even contacted the crew's family members once to prove that they were still alive.

De Crem said the government had considered military intervention to seize the ship, but decided that it was ''not desirable'' because it could endanger the crew.

Despite international navy patrols, piracy has exploded in the Gulf of Aden and around Somalia's 1,900-mile (3,060-kilometer) coastline. Pirates are able to operate freely because Somalia has had no effective central government in nearly 20 years.

Seasonal monsoons have hampered pirate activity recently and the relative lull is expected to continue until at least the end of August, when the rough weather subsides, according to the London-based International Maritime Bureau.

Belgian prosecutors said an attack on a Belgian ship in international waters was a crime that they would investigate. Belgian police will interview the crew and check the ship forforensic and DNA evidence when it reaches harbor, they said.

''We think there is a chance'' that some of the pirates might be caught and brought to justice, federal prosecutor Johan Delmulle told reporters. They could face up to 30 years in jail.

22 June 2009

News Analysis: Signals of Japan's new anti-piracy law rekindle hidden concern

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TOKYO, June 21 (Xinhua) -- Japan's powerful House of Representatives on Friday passed through a second vote an antipiracy law enabling the expansion of Self-Defense Forces' mission in waters off pirates-infested Somalia.

Compared with the existing provisions, the law featured relaxed restrictions on use of weaponry and objects of protection. The new law is expected to take effect in late July, according to government officials.

Reports: Russian warship seizes vessel with 29 suspected pirates off Somali coast

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MOSCOW — Russian news agencies, citing the nation's Defense Ministry, say a Russian warship has seized a vessel with 29 suspected pirates on board off the coast of Somalia.

RIA Novosti and other agencies say a Russian anti-submarine vessel seized the ship on Tuesday along with automatic rifles, pistols and ammunition found on board.

The reports say a Russian tanker fended off an attack by the same group earlier Tuesday.

Russia and other nations patrol the region as part of an international effort to deter pirate hijackings in the busy shipping lane off the Somali coast.

14 June 2009

Ships held by Somali pirates

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JAIKUR-I: Seized Oct. 2, 2008 - The 21,040-tonne general cargo ship was detained after a dispute with the owners over damaged cargo. Most of the 21 crew were released last month.

MASINDRA 7: Seized on Dec. 16, 2008. The Malaysian-owned tugboat, was seized with a barge off the Yemeni coast. The tug has about 11 Indonesian crew.

SERENITY: The catamaran sailing for Madagascar from the Seychelles with three people aboard, was seized in early March.

INDIAN OCEAN EXPLORER: Seized March 2009. The 35-metre boat was built in Hamburg as an oceanographic research vessel. It accommodates about 12 passengers.

HANSA STAVANGER: Seized April 4, 2009. The 20,000-tonne German container vessel was captured about 400 miles off the southern Somali port of Kismayu, between the Seychelles and Kenya. The vessel had a German captain and three Russians, two Ukrainians and 14 Filipinos on board.

WIN FAR 161: Taiwanese tuna boat, seized April 6, 2009.

SHUGAA-AL-MADHI: Seized April 9, 2009, the fishing boat had 13 crew.

MOMTAZ 1: Seized April 10, 2009. The Egyptian fishing vessel was detained with 18 crew.

BUCCANEER: Seized April 11, 2009. The Italian tugboat, owned by Micoperi Marine Contractors, was carrying 10 Italians, five Romanians and a Croatian, and was seized towing two barges while travelling westbound through the Gulf of Aden.

IRENE E.M.: Seized April 14, 2009. The St. Vincent and the Grenadines-flagged Greek-owned bulk carrier was hijacked as it travelled through the Gulf of Aden. Its Filipino crew of 22 was unharmed.

POMPEI: Seized April 18, 2009. The Belgian dredging vessel and its 10 crew were hijacked about 370 miles from the Somali coast en route to the Seychelles. It had two Belgians, four Croatians, one Dutchman and three Filipinos on board.

ARIANA: Seized May 2, 2009. The Ariana was seized north of Madagascar en route to the Middle East from Brazil. The 24-strong Ukrainian crew were said to be unhurt. The ship, flying a Maltese flag, belongs to All Oceans shipping in Greece. A Ukrainian ship was hijacked on the same day in the Indian Ocean with a cargo including U.N. vehicles. Maritime officials were unable to confirm this seizure.

VICTORIA: Seized on May 5, 2009. The Antigua and Barbuda- flagged cargo vessel was hijacked by eight pirates in the Gulf of Aden on its way to the port of Jeddah. The 146-metre ship had a crew of 10.

MARATHON: Seized on May 7, 2009. The 2,575-tonne boat, carrying up to 18 crew, is both owned and registered in the Netherlands. It was carrying coke fuel.

CHARELLE: Seized on June 12, 2009. The 2,800-tonne cargo ship carrying about nine crew, was attacked 60 miles south of Sur on the Omani coast. Lloyds reported the vessel was owned by shipping firm Tarmstedt International.


-- In 2008 there were 293 incidents of piracy against ships worldwide, 11 percent up on the year before. Attacks off Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden almost trebled.

-- In 2008, there were 111 incidents including 42 vessels hijacked in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia. So far in 2009, there have been 29 successful hijackings from 114 attempted attacks.

-- The seas off Somalia and Yemen have been the site of a total of 128 attacks so far in 2009, of which 44 resulted in successful hijacks according to Ecoterra. -- Nearly 20,000 ships pass through the Gulf of Aden each year, heading to and from the Suez Canal.

Sources: Reuters/Ecoterra International/International Maritime Bureau Piracy Reporting Centre/Lloyds List/Inquirer.net

Antiguan ship seized by pirates off Oman: NATO

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BRUSSELS (AFP) — A cargo vessel from Antigua and Barbuda has been seized by pirates off the coast of Oman, the first such attack in the area, a NATO spokesman told AFP on Friday.

"I can confirm a ship, the MV Charelle, has been hijacked Friday afternoon inside Oman's territorial waters", said Commander Chris Davies, the bloc's maritime spokesman.

"This is the first noted case of armed robbery in Oman's territorial waters, outside the normal area where the pirates are operating. It's quite unusual," he said. "The ship is now heading south towards Somalia."

NATO defence ministers earlier Friday agreed to prolong the military alliance's anti-piracy operations in the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden, with at least six countries ready to take part in the new mission.

At the last count 14 ships were still being held by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, together with more than 200 seamen, almost a quarter of them Filipinos.

The world's naval powers have deployed dozens of warships to the lawless waters off Somalia over the past year to curb attacks by pirates threatening one of the world's busiest maritime trade routes.

09 June 2009

NATO To Launch Long-term Piracy Mission In Gulf Of Aden - US

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BRUSSELS (AFP)--North Atlantic Treaty Organization nations will meet this week to drum up resources for a new and long-term anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden, set to be launched next month, a senior U.S. official said Monday.
NATO ambassadors have agreed an "initiating directive for a long-term operation called Ocean Shield to begin as of July 1," the official told reporters in Brussels.
"There will be a sourcing conference to find out who is going to be able to contribute what to Ocean Shield this Wednesday," he said.
Warships from NATO's Standing Naval Maritime Group One have been temporarily conducting anti-piracy work and escorting merchant ships, including some carrying food aid for Somalia, since March and that operation ends this month.
"It is important for NATO to continue its efforts on counter-piracy," the U.S. official said.
"We will make a contribution to this operation, logistics, communications and intelligence, as well as actual ships and we would hope, and expect our allies to do the same," he added.
Ecoterra International, a green non-governmental organisation monitoring illegal marine activities in the region, says Somali pirates have carried out 126 attacks so far this year, including 44 successful sea-jackings.
They had captured 49 ships in total last year.
At last count 14 ships were still being held by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, together with more than 200 seamen, almost a quarter of them Filipinos.
The world's naval powers have deployed dozens of warships to the region over the past year, in a declared attempt to curb attacks by pirates threatening one of the world's busiest maritime trade routes.
Observers say piracy can only be eradicated with measures to end the chaos inside Somalia, where close to two decades of war and lawlessness have made piracy one of the few viable businesses.

05 June 2009

British Navy Captures 10 Pirates But Must Let Them Go

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Nearly a dozen pirates armed with rocket-propelled grenades, machineguns and grappling hooks have been seized in the Gulf of Aden, after being intercepted by a British Royal Navy warship.

Two skiffs had been detected by the radar on board HMS Portland, a Type 23 frigate, which was originally designed for anti-submarine warfare.

Suspecting that they were “not innocent fishing vessels,” the frigate, led by Commander Tim Henry, steamed closer to the skiffs and saw that both vessels were filled with weaponry and ammunition. The ship’s Lynx helicopter was sent to hover over the skiffs while teams of Royal Marine and navy personnel in rigid inflatable boats sped towards the craft and disarmed the 10 men on board. The Lynx was armed with a machinegun and snipers.

“The skiffs were equipped with extra barrels of fuel, grappling hooks and a cache of weapons that included rocket-propelled grenades, machineguns and ammunition,” navy officials said.

Because of the rules of engagement, however, the pirates had to be set free. “We can only arrest suspected pirates if we catch them in the act or on the point of launching an attack on a vessel,” a Ministry of Defence official said.

“Clearly, with all the weaponry in the skiffs, there was an intent to commit piracy, but we hadn’t actually caught them in the middle of an attack so we had to release them.”

All the weapons and ammunition were confiscated and the 10 men were piled into the larger of the two skiffs, provided with enough fuel to get them to the Somali coast and told to go home. Some of the fuel was then put into the other skiff and set on fire.

“The pirates tend to use the smaller boats to go up against the merchant vessels they are trying to hijack, so we basically removed or destroyed all the piracy paraphernalia,” the MoD official said.

HMS Portland is serving with the Combined Maritime Forces Task Force 151, a multinational naval group that currently consists of ships from the United States, Britain, Turkey, South Korea, Singapore, Denmark and Japan. It was established to conduct counter-piracy operations.

Click here to read more on this story from the Times of London.

02 June 2009

Who Took the Maersk Alabama Booty?

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There's a new twist to the Maersk Alabama's drama on the high seas. Like something straight out of Training Day, the Navy is investigating whether its own team of seal snipers — or members of an international anti-piracy task force, or Maersk crew members themselves — have anything to do with the disappearance of $30,000 taken from the ship after it was hijacked by pirates in April. The pirates had pilfered the cash from the Maersk's safe and brought it back to their lifeboat, but it was, mysteriously, never recovered after three of the pirates were killed. We're not ready to say there was any foul play involved — maybe an opportunistic seagull grabbed the huge chunk of cash, or it drifted away unnoticed when the lifeboat was carelessly hoisted out of the water — but if anyone is found to have stolen it, we think it would be great for the legal defense of Abduwali Abdukhadir Muse, the lone surviving pirate. Clearly, there is some unstoppable, mystical force in the waters off the coast of Somalia that seduces ordinarily law-abiding people into committing acts of piracy. If even a team of highly train Navy seals can't resist its lure, should we really expect a poor "boy who fishes" to able to?

Pirates, Inc.: Inside the booming Somali business

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On a blazing morning in early May, Hassan Abdullahi and eight other men got into their small, wooden boat – each armed with a Kalashnikov rifle, a grenade, and outsized hope. They pushed out from a village near Bossasso, a large port in the Puntland region of Somalia, into the gentle waters of the Gulf of Aden to seek their fortune. They would make their way west 250 miles along the Somali coast before turning north toward Yemen, where busy shipping lanes narrow near the Red Sea.

Their goal, shared by a Somali businessman living abroad who funded their weapons and boat, was to attack commercial ships and hold them for ransom.

Neither Hassan, a fisherman, nor his crew mates – who like most men in a nation of goatherds had no seafaring experience – had ever worked as pirates before, and this was their maiden voyage. Their motive was simple: money. Their method was as elementary: Attack the first ship they saw.

"I was just doing fishing for the past eight years, and I was doing fine, but I [saw] friends doing piracy and getting rich," says Hassan, the 20-year-old leader of the group. "I thought I'd give it a try."

Meet the rank and file of Pirates, Inc. Legions of young men like these living in war-ravaged Somalia are the muscle behind piracy in the Indian Ocean. The brains behind this business – which raked in an estimated $80 million in ransoms in 2008 – can be as sophisticated as a CIA operation, with high-tech resources and highly placed personnel, or as haphazard as a Keystone Kops operation. Hassan's enterprise was more like the latter – and it didn't go well.