/ 3 October 2008

Somali pirate attacks ‘at a critical level’

Somali pirates attacked four ships in what a maritime piracy watchdog said on Friday was a ''critical level'' of attacks in the Gulf of Aden.

Armed Somali pirates attacked four ships, including an Italian crude-oil tanker, in what a maritime piracy watchdog said on Friday was a ”critical level” of attacks in the Gulf of Aden.

”It is one of the highest number of attacks in a single day in the same area,” said Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) piracy reporting centre in Kuala Lumpur.

He said the vessels were attacked on October 1 by Somali pirates armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades in the notorious waterway.

”We are warning ships to be on high alert. Pirates are attacking ships almost every day. It is at a critical level now,” he said.

”Three hijacked vessels were released a few days ago and it now appears this group of Somali pirates are looking for ships to hijack again.”

The first attack occurred at 3am GMT when pirates armed with guns and travelling in speedboats tried to board a United Arab Emirates bulk carrier with 28 crew on board, heading from Europe to Asia.

”The master took evasive manoeuvres and a coalition helicopter arrived and chased the pirates away,” Choong said.

Less than an hour later, a gang armed with rocket-propelled grenades attempted to board a Philippine-owned chemical tanker heading from the Middle East to Asia with 12 crew on board, but was chased away by a warship.

In the third incident pirates targeted a crude-oil Italian tanker but were foiled when the ship’s master took evasive action.

The final incident occurred when pirates armed with machine guns forced a Taiwanese container ship with 20 crew members to halt. The ship’s captain deployed fire hoses to retaliate and the vessel managed to escape.

Choong said it was not known if the same gang was responsible for all the attacks.

Somali pirates released three ships three days ago — an Egyptian vessel and two Malaysian ships owned by MISC Berhad, which reportedly paid a hefty ransom to secure the release of its vessels and crew.

Meanwhile, pirates holding a Ukrainian ship carrying tanks and military hardware on Thursday maintained their demand for a $20-million ransom as a blockade around them tightened. — AFP