MOGADISHU, November 19 – An Indian warship destroyed a pirate "mother vessel" in the Gulf of Aden, the navy said Wednesday, as bandits demanded a ransom for a Saudi super-tanker seized in the most daring sea raid yet.,
The Indian frigate INS Tabar, one of dozens of warships from several countries protecting shipping lanes in the area, attacked the Somali pirate ship late Tuesday after coming under fire, navy spokesman Nirad Sinha said.
The incident came as shipping groups reported a new surge in hijackings off Somalia and the International Maritime Bureau said pirates based in the lawless African nation were now "out of control".
"The INS Tabar closed in on the mother vessel and asked her to stop for investigation," the New Delhi navy spokesman said.
"But on repeated calls, the vessel’s threatening response was that she would blow up the naval warship if it approached," he added.
An exchange of fire ensued, causing explosions and the Indian navy ship then used heavy guns. "From what we see in photographs the pirate vessel is completely destroyed," a senior officer said on condition he not be named.
It was the first time a mother ship had been destroyed, in the most significant blow to pirates to date.
The piracy crisis has grown since the capture of the super-tanker Sirius Star on Saturday. The huge vessel was carrying a full load of two million barrels of oil worth an estimated 100 million dollars.
Al-Jazeera, the Arabic satellite television channel, broadcast an audio tape that it said was of one of the pirates making a ransom demand.
"Negotiators are located on board the ship and on land. Once they have agreed on the ransom, it will be taken in cash to the oil tanker," said the man identified as Farah Abd Jameh, who did not indicate the amount to be paid.
"We assure the safety of the ship that carries the ransom. We will mechanically count the money and we have machines that can detect fake money," the man said.
Vela International, owners of the ship, refused to comment on the report. "We hope there will be a quick solution," a spokesman in Dubai told AFP.
Seized in the Indian Ocean some 500 miles (800 kilometres) off the east African coast, the Sirius Star is now anchored at the Somali pirate lair of Harardhere, according to local officials.
The super-tanker has 25 crew, 19 from the Philippines, two from Britain, two from Poland, one Croatian and one Saudi. It was the largest ship yet taken by Somali pirates and the attack furthest away from Somalia.
Pirates have hijacked three ships since capturing the Sirius Star.
Andrew Mwangura, from the East African Seafarers Association, said a Thai fishing boat, a Hong Kong-registered freighter, the Delight, and a Greek bulk carrier were seized on Tuesday in the Gulf of Aden.
The Greek merchant marine ministry said it had no word of a Greek-flagged or Greek-owned vessel being seized but the other hijackings were confirmed.
The Delight, chartered by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, was carrying 25 crew members and 36,000 tonnes of wheat when it was seized on its way to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.
"So far no contact has been made with the ship and the hijackers," Majid Ensan Najib, a senior official with the shipping line, told the IRNA news agency.
On Wednesday, the pirates released another Hong Kong-flagged ship, MV Great Creation, and its 25 crew, 24 Chinese and one Sri Lankan crew,seized on September 18.
"The pirates released the Great Creation this morning and it is currently sailing to Abu Dhabi," Mwangura told AFP, adding that it was unclear whether a ransom was paid.
Pirates use mother ships, generally hijacked trawlers or deep-sea dhows, to tow speedboats from which they launch their attacks with grapnel hooks tied to rope ladders before neutralising the crews at gunpoint.
The Indian navy action could hamper the pirates in the Gulf of Aden in the near future but the group holding the Sirius Star operates from other mother ships further south.
The Gulf of Aden controls access to the Suez Canal, which allows trade between Europe and Asia without taking the longer and more expensive route around the southern tip of Africa.
NATO, the United States and a number of European nations have all sent ships to the region to try to stop the piracy, which has only increased instead.
The German navy said Tuesday one of its frigates had foiled attacks on two ships in the Gulf of Aden, using a helicopter to chase off pirates who fled in their speedboats.
The International Maritime Bureau has called on the United Nations to act over the piracy.
"The situation is already out of control," said Noel Choong, head of the piracy reporting centre at the IMB in Kuala Lumpur.
"The United Nations and the international community must find ways to stop this menace," Choong said. "With no strong deterrent, low risk to the pirates and high returns, the attacks will continue."