Pirates hijack two ships off Somali coast

PIRATES seized a British-flagged chemical tanker and a Panamanian-flagged carrier off Somalia’s coast and were holding 45 crew members yesterday, a maritime official has said.

The two hijackings late on Monday showed that pirates are relentless in their pursuit of quick money from ransom and that ship owners need to take extra precaution when sailing in the Horn of Africa, said Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau’s piracy reporting centre in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The waters off Somalia are teeming with pirates who have hijacked dozens of ships for multimillion-dollar ransoms in the past two years. An international naval force now patrols the Gulf of Aden, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. Choong said the British-flagged tanker, the St James Park, was the first merchant vessel to have been hijacked in the Gulf of Aden in nearly six months. He said the ship issued a distress message on Monday, seeking help after it was attacked. The distress call was picked up by the Greek rescue and coordination centre in Piraeus, which in turn relayed the message to the International Maritime Bureau and other agencies, he said. The bureau could not establish communication with the vessel but was informed by the ship’s owner early yesterday that the tanker has been hijacked, Choong said. The ship’s managers, London-based Zodiac Maritime Agencies, said yesterday that “no direct contact” has been made with the ship since it was seized.

“There are no reports of any injuries to crew or vessel.

“The managers of the vessel are working closely with the naval authorities and other organisations to secure the early and safe release of all crew members. We have had no direct contact with the ship since it was hijacked,” a spokesman said.

Commander John Harbour, of the European Union’s anti-piracy force, said the St James Park was seized while in the internationally recognised transit corridor in the Gulf of Aden that is patrolled by the international naval coalition.

The St James Park set sail from Tarragona, Spain, headed for Thailand, he said. The tanker has 26 crew members from the Philippines, Russia, Georgia, Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Poland, India and Turkey.

The ship was last reported to be heading toward the northern coast of Somalia, and the EU Naval Force was monitoring the situation, he added.

Choong said pirates last hijacked a Yemeni fishing boat in the Gulf of Aden on December 18, but the St James Park was the first merchant vessel to have been taken since July 8.

Three hours later, a Panamanian-flagged carrier with 19 crew members was also seized by pirates off the southern coast of Somalia on Monday. The International Maritime Bureau is still waiting for official reports from both ship owners and couldn’t give further details, Choong said. On Monday, pirates released the Singapore-flagged container ship Kota Wajar, the EU said.

The vessel was hijacked in mid-October in the Indian Ocean north of the Seychelles islands with a crew of 21 on board. The latest incidents bring the number of attacks in the Gulf of Aden and off Somalia to 214 this year, with 47 vessels hijacked and 12 still in the hands of pirates with 263 crew, Choong added.


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