Somali pirates hijack British, Taiwan vessels

Pirates seized a British-owned ship and a Taiwan-registered fishing boat after taking three vessels last weekend, officials said on Tuesday, marking a jump in the number of hijackings in the waters off Somalia this year.

In the first three months of 2009, only eight ships had been hijacked in the busy Gulf of Aden linking Europe to Asia and the eastern Indian Ocean off the Somali coast, according to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).

Last year, heavily armed gangs from the lawless Horn of Africa nation hijacked dozens of vessels, taking hundreds of sailors hostage and earning millions of dollars in ransoms.

Foreign navies rushed warships to the area and reduced the number of successful attacks. But there are still near-daily attempts and the pirates have begun hunting further afield near the Seychelles archipelago.

A Taiwan-registered deep sea fishing boat operating in the Indian Ocean near the Seychelles was hijacked on Monday and nothing more had been heard from the crew of 30, the Taiwan foreign ministry said in a statement on Tuesday.

On board the Wen-fa No. 161 were two Taiwanese including the captain, five Chinese, six Indonesians and 17 Filipinos, the ministry said.

Taiwan’s government has contacted Somali harbour officials, a US military unit and the UK Maritime Trade Organisation.

A British vessel named as the Malaspina Castle had separately been reported as taken on Monday.

“A 32 000-tonne bulker was seized early this morning.
It is UK-owned but operated by Italians. The crew is mixed but we are not sure of their nationalities,” Andrew Mwangura of the Mombasa-based East African Seafarers’ Assistance Programme said on Monday.

Nikolai Apostolov, head of Bulgaria’s Maritime Administration Agency said 16 Bulgarians were on board.

Ships seized
Over the weekend, pirates seized a French yacht, a Yemeni tug and the Hansa Stavanger, a 20 000-tonne German container vessel, despite the presence of foreign warships that have been sent to the region to deter the pirates.

Mwangura said the German container ship was taken 740km off the southern Somali port of Kismayu, between the Seychelles and Kenya.

Germany’s Foreign Ministry confirmed the hijack on Monday and said it had set up a crisis centre. A spokesperson for the Hamburg state prosecutor’s office, which is investigating the incident, said five of the 24 crew members were German.

French television said the yacht seized at the weekend was the Tanit and that there was a French couple with a child on board.

The pirates typically use speed boats launched from “mother ships”, which means they can sometimes evade foreign navies patrolling the busy shipping lanes and strike far out to sea.

They then take captured vessels to remote coastal village bases in Somalia, where they have usually treated their hostages well in anticipation of a sizeable ransom payment.

Before the latest spate of hijackings, the IMB said nine vessels with 153 crew were being held and that 59 pirates had been captured this year. - Reuters

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