Greek ship latest victim of Somali piracy (Lead)

November 19th, 2008 - 4:23 pm ICT by IANS  

Nairobi, Nov 19 (DPA) A Greek ship has become the third vessel seized by Somali pirates since they took control of a Saudi supertanker over the weekend in their most daring raid yet, a maritime official said Wednesday.Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarers’ Assistance Programme said he had received reports that a Greek ship was taken Tuesday along with some 25 crew members. There was no information on the ship’s name, cargo or destination.

Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre, said Wednesday he could not confirm the report.

Choong said he only knew of the hijacking Tuesday of a Hong Kong-flagged cargo ship and a Kiribati-flagged fishing boat.

The Hong Kong-flagged Delight, with around 25 crew onboard, was operated by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines and was carrying wheat to Iran. The Kiribati-flagged fishing boat was operated out of Thailand and had 12 crew members onboard.

Both ships were believed to be heading to anchorage off the coast of Somalia.

Pirates have been extremely active, with other failed hijackings reported, since they seized Saudi Arabian supertanker Sirius Star Saturday.

The supertanker anchored near the Somali port of Harardhere on Tuesday. The ship’s owner Vela International Marine Limited, a subsidiary of Saudi Arabian oil company Saudi Aramco, is waiting for ransom negotiations to begin.

Harardhere is around 400 km from the pirate stronghold of Eyl, where the hijackers often take ships and keep international warships at bay by holding crew members hostage.

Vela International said the ship was carrying a full load of crude oil when it was seized. The Sirius Star, which is 330 metres long, can carry up to two million barrels of oil, meaning its cargo is worth in the vicinity of $100 million.

The ship’s 25 crew members, who are from Britain, Croatia, the Philippines, Poland and Saudi Arabia, are all safe, Vela International said in a statement on its website.

“Our first and foremost priority is ensuring the safety of the crew,” said Salah B Ka’aki, president and chief executive of Vela International. “We are in communication with their families and are working toward their safe and speedy return.”

Authorities in the semi-autonomous Puntland region of Somalia and the US Navy, which operates a security patrol in the Gulf of Aden, have said they do not plan to attempt to free the tanker by force.

The Sirius Star is the largest taken by pirates in a series of hijackings in the area over the past months and represents their most daring raid yet, despite the presence of international warships.

The attack took place well outside the normal danger areas in the Gulf of Aden. The Sirius Star, which was sailing under a Liberian flag, was seized Saturday some 830 kilometres south-east of the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa.

Choong said this showed that hijackers could be changing their tactics to avoid international warships that have been deployed in the area.

The surge in piracy has prompted increased patrols by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Russia, the US-led coalition forces and France along the Somali coast.

The European Union has also authorized a force of between five and seven frigates, which is expected to arrive in the Gulf of Aden early December.

The Gulf of Aden is a relatively narrow and busy shipping channel which forms part of the route linking the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean Sea through the Suez Canal.

Prior to the latest seizures, the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said there had been 92 attempts at piracy off the coast of Somalia this year, 36 of them successful.

If the latest report of the Greek ship being hijacked proves correct, 17 ships are in the hands of pirates with over 300 crew.

Amongst the ships being held is Ukrainian freighter, the MV Faina, which was captured while carrying 33 military tanks to Mombasa.

A kuala Lumpur report said: Pirates have hijacked a Thai fishing boat with 16 crew members off the coast of Somalia, bringing the number of pirate attacks in the troubled region to 95 this year, a maritime watchdog said Wednesday.

The vessel, which was seized Tuesday in the Gulf of Aden, had made a distress call late Monday as it was being chased by pirates in two speedboats, said Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau’s piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur.

However, the phone line got cut.

The Thai boat was heading for the Middle East, said Choong. He said the fate of the crew members remains unknown.

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