Crew member swims for two days to escape pirates

A crew member of a Japanese chemical tanker hijacked by pirates off the Somali coast on October 28 escaped and has been rescued after spending two days at sea, a maritime official said on Monday.

”We are informed that one crew member escaped from the vessel, swam and was rescued,” said Andrew Mwangura, head of the Kenya chapter of the Seafarers’ Assistance Programme.

The Golden Nori was hijacked with 23 crew members aboard, including two South Koreans.

”After the vessel was hijacked, the crew member swam for two days, after which he was saved and he is now reported to be in South Korea,” said Mwangura, adding that he could not confirm for the moment if the man was South Korean.

Mwangura said ”ransom talks are currently under way in Singapore and Malaysia” in a bid to free the vessel. He explained that the size of ransom depended on the cost, type and ownership of the cargo, the value and nationality of the ship as well as the nationality of the crew. ”The talks are usually held in secret.”

Rampant piracy off Somalia’s vast coastline stopped in the second half of 2006 during six months of strict rule by an Islamist movement that was ousted by Ethiopian and Somali government troops at the end of the year.

Somalia lies at the mouth of the Red Sea — on a major Indian Ocean trade route between Asia and Europe via the Suez Canal — and has lacked a functional government since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

The International Maritime Bureau has urged freighters to stay away from Somalia, whose 3 700km coastline is a hot spot for sea ambushes.

The French navy is due mid-November to deploy a vessel to protect United Nations World Food Programme-charted ships, which have been targeted while ferrying supplies to Somalia in recent months.

A surge of piracy off the Horn of Africa nation has put Somalia alongside Indonesia and Bangladesh as the worst zones in sea ambushes.

But the United States navy, part of the Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa (CTF-150), based in Djibouti to fight terrorism in the volatile region, has upped its crackdown on pirates. It has urged the pirates to abandon the vessels.

The CTF-150 also operates under international maritime conventions to secure international waters for commercial shipping and fishing. — Sapa-AFP

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