Another US cargo ship escapes Somali pirate attack

A cargo ship loaded with humanitarian aid was headed to Kenya under US Navy escort on Wednesday after escaping Somali pirates firing grenades and automatic weapons, the second unsuccessful hijacking attempt of an American freighter in a week, officials said.

In defiance of President Barack Obama’s vow to halt their banditry, pirates have seized four vessels and about 60 hostages off the Horn of Africa since Sunday’s rescue of an American freighter captain from the drifting lifeboat where he was held hostage. If they had been successful on Tuesday, the MV Liberty Sun would have been the fifth.

The Liberty Sun‘s American crew was not injured in the attack but the vessel sustained unspecified damage, owner Liberty Maritime said in a statement on Tuesday night.

“We are under attack by pirates, we are being hit by rockets. Also bullets,” crewman Thomas Urbik (26) told his mother in an email on Tuesday.
“We are barricaded in the engine room and so far no one is hurt. [A] rocket penetrated the bulkhead but the hole is small. Small fire, too, but put out.”

It was not immediately clear what happened next. Urbik sent a follow-up email “that said he was safe and they had a naval escort taking them in”, his mother, Katy Urbik, said.

A US Navy destroyer, the USS Bainbridge, responded to the attack but the pirates had departed by the time it arrived about six hours later, Navy Captain Jack Hanzlik said.

The Bainbridge is the same destroyer from which Navy Seal snipers killed three pirates holding Captain Richard Phillips captive aboard the powerless lifeboat. A fourth pirate surrendered.

Phillips had been held captive for five days after exchanging himself to safeguard his crew during a thwarted hijacking of the Alabama by the pirates last week.

The Bainbridge was carrying Phillips to Kenya when it was called to respond to the attack on the Liberty Sun. He was to return home to the United States on Wednesday, after reuniting with his 19-man crew in the port city of Mombasa, according to the shipping company Maersk Line.

The Liberty Sun, with its crew of about 20 Americans, was carrying humanitarian aid to Mombasa, Hanzlik said.

“We commend the entire crew for its professionalism and poise under fire,” Liberty Maritime, of Lake Success, NY, said in the statement. President Philip Shapiro and chief financial officer Dale Moses declined to comment further.

Katy Urbik, said she was “very relieved and grateful to God for protecting him and to our Navy, and that we come from a country that can respond like that and protect our citizens”.

The brigands are grabbing more ships and hostages to show they would not be intimidated by Obama’s pledge to confront the high-seas bandits, according to a pirate based in the Somali coastal town of Harardhere.

“Our latest hijackings are meant to show that no one can deter us from protecting our waters from the enemy because we believe in dying for our land,” Omar Dahir Idle told the Associated Press by
telephone.

After a lull at the beginning of the year because of rough seas, the pirates since the end of February have attacked at least 78 ships, hijacked 19 of them and hold 16 vessels with more than 300 hostages from a dozen or so countries.

The pirates say they are fighting illegal fishing and dumping of toxic waste in Somali waters but have come to operate hundreds of kilometres from there in a sprawling 1,76-million square-kilometre danger
zone.

Pirates can extort $1-million and more for each ship and crew.

Kenya estimates they raked in $150-million last year.

A flotilla of warships from nearly a dozen countries has patrolled the Gulf of Aden and nearby Indian Ocean waters for months. They have halted many attacks but say the area is so vast they can’t stop all hijackings.

The Gulf of Aden, which links the Suez Canal and the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, is the shortest route from Asia to Europe and one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes, crossed by more than 20 000 ships each year. The alternative route around Cape Town takes up to two weeks longer at huge expense.

In an unusual nighttime raid, pirates seized the Greek-managed bulk carrier MV Irene EM before dawn on Tuesday. Hours later, they commandeered the Lebanese-owned cargo ship MV Sea Horse.

On Sunday or Monday, they took two Egyptian fishing trawlers.

Maritime officials said the Irene carried 21 to 23 Filipino crew and the fishing boats 36 fishermen, all believed to be Egyptian. A carrier the size of the Sea Horse would need at least a dozen crew, although the exact number was not immediately available.

Most ships are hijacked without a shot fired. Freed hostages report being treated well. - Sapa-AP

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