Somali pirates seize German tanker

January 30th, 2009 - 4:13 am ICT by IANS  

Nairobi, Jan 30 (DPA) Pirates have hijacked a German-owned tanker carrying liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) off the coast of Somalia, a maritime official said.”The German-owned LPG tanker MV Longchamp was seized Thursday morning,” Andrew Mwangura, of the Kenya-based East African Seafarers’ Assistance Programme, told DPA Thursday. “She was sailing from Europe to the Far East.”

The ship, which has a capacity of 3,415 tonnes, was fully loaded, flying a Bahamas flag and had a crew of 12 Filipinos and one Indonesian, Mwangura said.

The 100-metre-long vessel belongs to MPC Steamship, a branch of a German investment group, a spokesman for the company in Hamburg said.

MPC Steamship contracts the operation out to the Bernhard Schulte ship management company, a longtime Hamburg shipping operator.

Currently the ship is chartered to yet another company, Bridge Marine, which is registered in the Liberian capital Monrovia.

The MPC spokesman said the ship had passed through the Suez Canal and waited for a day to join a convoy under Indian naval protection as it passed through pirate-infested waters.

However, the Indians could not prevent pirates from seizing the vessel, which was steered away from the convoy toward the Somali coast.

Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reporting centre in Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur, said it was unclear if any of the ships crew were injured in the attack.

The MV Longchamp is the third vessel to be seized off Somali this year. The presence of international warships has reduced the number of hijackings from last year, but the area remains a dangerous place.

A total of 15 attacks have taken place since Jan 1.

Piracy off the coast of Somalia peaked late last year with the seizure of a Saudi supertanker.

Around 40 ships were hijacked last year, prompting NATO, the European Union, India, Russia and other countries to deploy warships in the region.

Pirates are still holding a total of 10 ships and more than 200 crew members, Choong said.

The MV Faina, a Ukrainian ship carrying tanks and other armaments, is amongst those ships still being held.

The level of attacks dropped off in December and January, but Choong warned activity may begin to pick up again.

“The reason why the attacks seem to be starting again is that weather condition have improved, allowing the pirates to launch small boats for their attacks,” he said.

The pirates launch small craft from motherships and force ships to stop by firing across their bows with rocket-propelled grenades or automatic weapons.

They then demand multi-million-dollar ransoms, which shipping companies usually cough up - thus increasing the likelihood of further pirate attacks, according to analysts and Somali authorities.

International forces have foiled several attacks on ships so far this year, but Choong said the London-based IMB had issued a warning to all ships in the area to be vigilant in the wake of the latest attack.

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