Somali pirates seize ship, 21 American crew members

April 8th, 2009 - 8:31 pm ICT by IANS  

Nairobi, April 8 (DPA) Somali pirates Wednesday seized a Danish-owned container ship with 21 American crew members on board as piracy in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean surged again after a brief lull.
Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarers’ Association said that the 17,000-tonne vessel, the Maersk Alabama, was taken in the Indian Ocean, around 500 km off the Somali coast.

“There are 21 American crew members on board, and they are all safe,” he told DPA.

The ship, which is owned by Danish firm Maersk and operated by US company Maersk Line Limited, was taken around 7.30 a.m. It is now believed to be sailing to the Somali port town of Eyl.

Lieutenant Nathan Christensen, a spokesman for the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, told DPA that a coalition force based off Somalia was “closely monitoring” the situation.

Warships patrolling the area do not intervene once a ship has been taken, concentrating instead on attempting to prevent seizures in the first place.

The ship is the sixth to be seized since Saturday.

The 32,000-tonne British-owned Malaspina Castle, flying a Panama flag, was seized on Monday along with its crew of 24 from Bulgaria, Russia, Ukraine and Philippines.

Taiwanese fishing vessel MV Win Far was taken on the same day near the Seychelles. Its crew of 30 are from Taiwan, China, Indonesia and the Philippines.

A French yacht, a Yemeni tugboat and a German container ship were also seized over the weekend.

The pirates do not harm their crew, instead holding out for multi-million dollar ransoms.

Pirate gangs in 2008 seized dozens of ships and earned tens of millions of dollars, prompting the international community to send in a fleet of warships.

Around 15 warships from the European Union, a coalition task force and individual countries such as Russia, India and China patrol an area of around 1.1 million square miles (2.85 million square km).

The warships, along with unfavourable weather conditions, appeared to have been deterring the pirates, with successful attacks dropping off between December and February.

However, the recent hijackings, many of which have been further out to sea, show that the pirates are changing tactics to avoid the patrolling vessels.

Despite the setbacks, however, there have been recent successes.

The German frigate Rhineland-Pflaz docked in the Kenyan port of Mombasa Wednesday, carrying seven Somali pirates captured during an abortive attack on a German naval tanker in the Gulf of Aden last month.

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