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Somali pirates seize British ship amid surge in hijackings

By Mike Pflanz in Nairobi
pirate_markabThe 32,000-tonne Malaspina Castle was taken early on Monday and was believed to be heading towards Somalia’s pirate-infested coast.

The British shipmaster’s union, Nautilus issued a call for better protection of the busy shipping lanes leading to the Suez Canal and Cape Horn

During 2008, the Somali gunmen raided more than 130 vessels, mostly in the Gulf of Aden, resulting in 50 successful hijackings and a multi-million pound windfall for the pirates.

“In Somalia, piracy is like a big, successful industry and the authorities there need to act,” said Mark Dickinson of Nautilus.

“The pirates are treated like local heroes. People look up to them and girls want to marry them. They are seen by some locals as good people but they are ruthless.”

The British-owned ship, operated by an Italian company, carried a crew of 24, from Bulgaria, Ukraine, Russia and the Philippines, who are understood to be safe onboard.

A Taiwanese fishing boat, a French yacht, a Yemeni tugboat and a German container vessel were also hijacked in the most successful two days of attacks by Somali pirates this year.

“There have not yet been communications from the Malaspina Castle that we are aware of, so information is limited,” said Andrew Mwangura of the Seafarers’ Assistance Programme in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa.

“It is likely to be being taken towards the Somali coast and negotiations will begin soon.” An international naval task force, including British warships, has been patrolling the waters off Somalia since late last year in a bid to deter pirates.

Many of the pirate teams are now venturing much further south, away from their usual hunting grounds north of Somalia and closer to the Indian Ocean islands of the Seychelles and Comoros.

They operate from large â mother ships’ which can sail greater distances from the coast, and then launch small skiffs to speed up to their targets and board them using ladders, grappling hooks and armed with automatic weapons.

A former oceanographic research ship converted into a luxury dive boat was taken late last week just hours after its party of British tourists had disembarked in an outlying atoll in the Seychelles.

“It’s just not possible for the ships patrolling the Gulf [of Aden] to be able to divert south to stop these new attacks,” said a diplomatic source in Nairobi who is monitoring the pirate crisis.

“There are simply not enough of them. They already have more than a million square miles of sea to cover up there, and it’s a crucial commercial shipping lane.

“Further south into the Indian Ocean, there are fewer big ships, but still enough to entice the pirates, as we are seeing with these attacks. There’s very little we can do to stop it.”



About Chief Editor

Abdirizak Yonis is a senior chief editor at Bartamaha Media (a SMO "Somali Multimedia Organisation" Company), where he oversees the Bartamaha News outlet. Abdirizak was previously the National news editor of Bartamaha dot com. He has written for the site since the late 2012
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