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17 Dec 2007 14:13
Suspected Somali pirates attacked an Italian-owned cargo ship on Monday as it headed for Kenya’s Mombasa port through one of the world’s most dangerous waterways, a regional maritime group said.
Andrew Mwangura, director of Mombasa-based East African Seafarers Assistance Programme, said the large MV Jolly T was attacked by gunmen believed to be pirates off the shore of Somalia after bringing general cargo through the Suez canal.
It was unclear if the ship had been captured or escaped.
“These must be Somali pirates. We don’t know how many crew are on board,” Mwangura told Reuters, saying the sketchy information came from shipping sources in the region.
“At the moment, we are trying to find out if it is being held captive anywhere, so that we can monitor its position.”
Since Somalia collapsed into anarchy in 1991, pirates have taken advantage of the power vacuum and chaos on shore to hijack ships and demand ransoms with relative impunity.
A brief lull during last year’s six-month Islamist rule of south Somalia—which deterred the pirates—ended earlier this year.
Since then a spate of attacks have followed.
The pirates generally use speedboats for early morning attacks, and sometimes justify their actions as defending Somali waters against illegal fishing vessels and toxic dumping.
Mwangura said some of the cargo on the Italian ship was headed for an “important diplomatic mission” in Nairobi.
“But we don’t know which one and whether this was known by the attackers,” he said.
Last week, pirates left a Japanese chemical tanker they had been holding since October after United States navy ships cornered them off north Somalia and helped negotiate an end to the stand-off. - Reuters
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