Somali pirates launch attack on oil tanker

Monday, November 9, 2009

Image: Hipi Zhdripi.

Somali pirates have carried out their longest-range attack to date today, firing on an oil tanker 1,850 kilometers off the coast of Somalia. NATO and European Union anti-piracy forces say pirates attacked the ship in the Indian Ocean, 740 kilometers northeast of the Seychelles islands.

The reports say pirates in at least two skiffs approached the tanker and attacked it with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. The vessel took evasive maneuvers and escaped. No casualties were reported. The EU says a spotter plane has been sent to monitor the pirates.

Meanwhile, maritime officials say Somali pirates have seized a cargo ship full of weapons. Details are sketchy on the incident. It is not clear when or where pirates seized the ship, which the officials say is using a fake name, Al Mizan.

The Atalanta naval mission of the EU, which operates off the coast of Somalia, released a statement regarding the incident. "This was the longest range of a pirate attack off the Somali coast ever. Automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades were fired. With increasing speed and evasive maneuvers the master managed to evade the attack. No casualties were reported," it read.

Somali pirates have gradually extended their reach using so-called mother ships that can journey far out to sea. From these, the pirates launch small skiffs to attack and board commercial vessels.

Last year, and for much of this year, most of the pirates' attacks took place in the Gulf of Aden, north of Somalia. But in recent weeks, the pirates have concentrated their efforts in the western Indian Ocean, north of the Seychelles. The vast area is much harder for foreign naval patrols stationed off Somalia to cover, although the patrols have stopped some pirate attacks in progress.

Somali pirates are holding at least nine ships and well over 100 crew members in all. The pirates are also holding a British couple, Paul and Rachel Chandler, who they seized from a yacht last month.