/ 5 April 2007

Somali pirates name ransom for merchant ship

Somali pirates are demanding $20 000 for the return of an Indian-flagged merchant ship and its crew, officials said on Thursday.

The pirates, armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, seized the MV Nimatullah and its 14-member crew off the coast of Mogadishu early on Monday.

The pirates had originally demanded $40 000, but scaled down their demand based on their valuation of the ship’s cargo, said Andrew Mwangura, head of the Kenyan chapter of the Seafarers’ Assistance Programme.

The British-based International Maritime Bureau warned on Wednesday there had been a marked increase in pirate attacks in Somali waters.

”Vessels are advised to steer well clear of Somali waters at all times and only approach once full clearance to enter the port has been received,” the organisation said in a statement posted on its website.

The MV Nimatullah was carrying more than 800 tonnes of cargo, including cooking oil, second-hand clothing and rice. It is being held at coastal town of Harardheere, a pirate stronghold 400km north of the capital, Mwangura said.

Mwangura expressed concern over the crew, all of whom are South Asians, and the cargo’s intended recipients.

The ship’s Dubai-based owner, Issa Bhata, could not be reached for comment.

Mwangura added that another ship, MV Nishan, was attacked close to Mogadishu seaport by pirates on Tuesday, but managed to escape.

The coast of Somalia, which has had no effective government since warlords ousted a dictatorship in 1991 and then turned on each other, has become one of the world’s most dangerous areas for ships.

In February, Somali pirates seized a United Nations-chartered vessel that had delivered food aid to north-eastern Somalia. The ship and its 12-member crew are still being held.

In 2005, two ships carrying UN World Food Programme aid were overwhelmed by pirates. The number of overall reported at-sea hijackings that year was 35, compared with two in 2004, according to the International Maritime Bureau. In 2006 there were 10 attacks, while this year there have been four so far. — Sapa-AP