Saturday, 13 December 2008

Somali Piracy Update

Cruise ship Oceania Nautica escapes Somali pirates on November 30. The 11 deck tall cruise ship was on a month long cruise from Rome to Singapore when she was chased by two skiffs that fired at her. The Nautica was carrying almost 700 passengers and 400 crew at the time. The Oceania Nautica is one of the cruise industry’s highest rated vessels; many of the tourists were Americans. Oceania spokesperson Mr. Tim Rubacky confirmed that the luxury liner was transiting the Gulf of Aden in the Maritime Safety Protection Area which is patrolled by international navies when two skiffs were seen approaching the vessel on an interceptory course. Capt. Brajcic increased speed and began evasive maneuvers, besides other prescribed precautions. Despite eight rifle shots being fired at the Nautica, she managed to outrun the pirates. "All guests and crew onboard are safe and there were no injuries." Rubacky said.

Pirate mother ship or trawler? Marex had earlier reported that the Indian Naval stealth frigate Tabar had confirmed the sinking of a suspected pirate mother ship on Nov. 18 in the Gulf of Aden. The sunken craft now appears to have been a Thai fishing trawler which itself was a pirate target, according to reports. The incident took place about 320 miles off the Omani coast, when the Tabar sank the vessel as pirates fled in small boats. It now appears that the Ekawat Nava 5 was on a passage to Yemen to deliver fishing equipment when it was attacked by pirates. The pirates were taking control of the trawler when the Tabar approached, according to a Cambodian crewman who was rescued six days after the incident. It is believed that two dozen crew of the trawler are still missing; one is confirmed dead, according to the Thai owner. These reports highlight the growing chaotic conditions in the Gulf of Aden as piracy escalates. Analysts believe that it is impossible for a warship to ascertain whether the pirates are firing at them from a hostage vessel or one of their own, especially if the hijacked trawler (in this case) has not been reported as such. The Tabar was fired upon by the pirates as she approached them after several warnings.

Faina may be released on Tuesday with its 17 crew. The Ukrainian ship has been in the eye of a storm more because she was carrying 33 tanks and other weapons manifested for Mombasa when she was seized. The final destination has been controversial, with reports alleging that the arms were actually bound for Sudan. It is now believed that negotiations for the release of the Ukrainian ship are nearing completion. The Faina was hijacked about two months ago, an event that prompted the Russians to send in its Navy to add to the many who now patrol the pirate infested waters, seemingly with uncertain effect. Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Program has said that the ship may be released early this week. Other reports quote Somali pirates confirming this.

Deadline runs out for Sirius Star USD 25 million ransom. A pirate on board the hijacked supertanker said over the weekend that they were expecting a resolution to the ransom demands even as the ultimatum issued by the group was about to expire. The pirates had demanded a 25 million dollar ransom soon after the hijack of the ship with its hundred million dollar cargo; later reports suggested that this amount had been reduced by almost two thirds. The Sirius Star was hijacked on November 15. The Saudi Government has refused to negotiate with the hijackers, but Prince Saud has said that the final decision would be up to the owners. The Sirius Star hijack, so far the biggest, shocked the industry and caused many owners to re route their ships via the Cape of Good Hope instead of the Gulf of Aden; ironically, the Cape route was the one the Sirius Star was on when she was seized. Reports suggest that about a half dozen more ships have been hijacked in the Gulf of Aden since the Star incident.

British security operatives jump overboard to escape pirates in the Gulf of Aden. The three personnel belonging to a UK based ‘ship protection’ company, were on board a Singapore operated tanker, MS Biscaglia, when she was attacked by Somali pirates. Even though she had these three as ‘protectors’ and sent out a distress message, she was overrun and taken hostage. It is not clear at what stage the three guards jumped overboard leaving the mainly Indian crew to their fate; these three were themselves rescued by a German Navy helicopter. The owners and crews of ships will now certainly rethink the hiring such security firms in future. It is believed that the guards were not armed, and a spokesman for the security company says that they feared for their life after they had spent “considerable time” trying and failing to repel the pirate attack.

Finally, a sobering thought. Three hundred and fifty seafarers continue to be held hostage by Somali pirates. The navies of the world continue to extend their presence in the Gulf of Aden, but maritime experts say that the incidence of attacks on ships have not decreased at all since the patrols began. There have been about a hundred reported attacks this year, with almost forty reported hijacks so far. Unreported attacks are said to be numerous, and hijackings of small coastal ships, trawlers and the like remain under the radar.

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