Nairobi: Somali pirates armed with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic guns hijacked a chemical tanker off East Africa with 22 crewmembers on board, the European Union Naval force said.
Spokesman Cmdr John Harbour said there is little chance that military forces can storm the ship because officials don't believe the crew all made it to a safe room before the pirates boarded. The crew consists of 19 Indians, 2 Bangladeshis and 1 Ukrainian, he said. The ship - the Marida Marguerite - was heading from India to Belgium.
Also Saturday, Taiwan's Foreign Ministry said a Taiwanese fishing boat was hijacked off the Somali coast by pirates who demanded a ransom for the crew.
The ship's Taiwanese owner lost contact with Tai Yuan 227 two days ago as it headed for the Maldives. When the owner resumed contact with the vessel a day later, he was told by hijackers to pay a ransom for the crew, the ministry said.
"The boat has since changed direction to sail toward Somalia, so this may very well have been done by the Somali pirates," the ministry said in a statement. "We hope that the many other boats sailing in the area can stay alert and avoid the pirates from launching an attack at other boats from the Tai Yuan 227." It wasn't immediately clear how many crew were aboard the trawler.
Foreign Ministry officials refused to provide contact information for the boat's owner, saying he wanted to remain anonymous until the crew was released.
Pirate attacks have continued to climb despite the presence of about 35 international warships patrolling the waters off the lawless Somalia coast.
Pirates currently hold more than 300 hostages taken from ships attacked off East Africa in the last several months. Eleven suspected Somali pirates were indicted in US federal court late last month, but the international community has had problems formulating an accepted policy to try and jail pirate suspects.
Pirates boarded the Russian tanker Moscow University off the coast of Somalia on Wednesday. They were arrested Thursday after Special Forces from a Russian warship stormed the tanker. A gunbattle ensued in which one pirate was killed, and 10 others were detained.
The pirates seized were released because of "imperfections" in international law, Russia's Defense Ministry said Friday, a claim that sparked skepticism - and even suspicion the pirates might have been killed.
Anarchy has reigned in Somalia since 1991, when warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other. The weak Somali government controls only a small bit of the capital, Mogadishu, and is battling Islamic insurgents. The lawlessness has allowed the piracy trade to flourish off Somalia's coastline.
First Published: Sunday, May 09, 2010, 10:35