/ 21 April 2008

Somalian pirates in daring attack on oil tanker

Heavily armed pirates on Monday attacked and damaged a huge oil tanker off the Somali coast using machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, a Malaysian-based maritime watchdog said.

Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) Piracy Reporting Centre, said that the attack, believed to be by Somali pirates, took place under the cover of darkness at about 2.30am GMT in the Gulf of Aden.

”Pirates on five speed boats attacked the tanker, the size of a football field. It was a night raid. A missile-like rocket was launched at the ship. Initial reports said the ship suffered some damage,” he said.

”I believe the Somali pirates could have used rocket-propelled grenades and machine-gun fire on the tanker with the aim to board and possibly hijack her,” Choong said. ”But the tanker increased speed and managed to prevent the pirates from boarding and taking control of the oil tanker.”

Choong said since February there had been nine attacks in the Gulf of Aden, which has emerged as one of the most dangerous waterways for seafarers amid a non-functioning government in Somalia for almost two decades.

The IMB urged ships plying the Gulf of Aden to maintain strict 24-hour anti-piracy visuals and look out for small, suspicious boats coming towards them.

Choong declined further details of the tanker but said all the crew members were safe.

The attack on the tanker came just after a Spanish tuna fishing boat carrying a crew of 26 was seized on Sunday by pirates off the Somali coast.

Earlier this month, a luxury French cruise yacht with about 30 crew members was hijacked off the coast of Somalia. The hostages were released when a ransom, believed to be about $2-million, was paid.

Shortly after their release, French special forces arrested six of the hostage-takers as they tried to escape in a 4×4 vehicle, having gone ashore after releasing the crew members.

The waters off Nigeria and Somalia are the world’s most dangerous hot spots for seafarers, with pirate attacks increasing globally in the first quarter of this year, the IMB said on Wednesday. It recorded 49 incidents worldwide in the period, compared with 41 last year. — Sapa-AFP