Panama-flagged ship hijacked off Somali coast by pirates

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Suspected Somali pirates have hijacked the MV Al Khaliq, a Panama-flagged ship, off the eastern coast of Africa on Thursday. International maritime officials said the ship was seized about 330 kilometers west of the Seychelles islands.

Officials reported that the ship is carrying 26 crew members — 24 Indians and two Burmese. The Al Khaliq is the fourth ship Somali pirates have hijacked this month, and the third in the past week.

"The MV Al Khaliq, a Panamanian-flagged bulk carrier, has been hijacked early this morning off Somalia," said a spokeswoman for the NATO's antipiracy mission in the UK. "There were 26 crew on board, 24 of whom are Indian and two Burmese."

The mission confirmed that the ship had been hijacked. "Within the last hour, an EU NAVFOR maritime patrol aircraft has confirmed the hijack of MV Al Khaliq, [with] six pirates on board and two attack skiffs in tow," it said. "The mother skiff [of the pirates] has already been taken on board with a crane."

The European Union's anti-piracy mission reported that crew members radioed for help before losing contact. An EU aircraft that flew over the scene reported seeing six pirates on board and the Al Khaliq towing two pirate skiffs. NATO's nearest defence ship was located about eight hours away from the Al Khaliq when it was overtaken by the pirates.

The EU and NATO also said that pirates released open fire on another ship, the Italian-flagged MV Jolly Rosso, off the coast of Kenya on the same day. That ship, however, managed to escape by increasing its throttles to eighteen knots, a spokeswoman for the antipiracy mission said.

"The ship took appropriate evasive action, managed to evade the attack and is proceeding on her voyage. There were no casualties," read a statement by the mission.

Somali pirates have hijacked dozens of ships over the last two years, taking in tens of millions of dollars in ransom money. The pirates are believed to be holding seven ships in all. A new report on the pirates suggests that current international strategies to stop the hijackings are not effective.

The report, put out by the Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research, said the international naval patrols off Somalia's coast are expensive, and that the pirates can evade the patrols or escape to shore. It also noted that efforts to combat piracy by strengthening Somalia's Western-backed government are limited, because the pirates come from specific regions and clans, far away from the capital.

The researchers, however, said that there are centers of power close to the pirate bases, and that these can be allies in fighting piracy. The researchers say that to effectively combat piracy, the international community needs to support these local structures.