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Eight suspects charged over piracy

MOMBASA, November 19 – Eight suspected Somali pirates who were seized over a week ago by the British Navy have been charged with piracy before a Mombasa court.

The eight who were handed over to Kenyan authorities on Tuesday appeared before Mombasa Chief Magistrate Catherine Mwangi accused of allegedly committing piracy along the Somalia coastline. They denied the charges but were remanded in custody until Monday pending a ruling whether to grant them bail or not.

The alleged buccaneers were arrested by British Navy officers last week during a counter-piracy operation at sea, in which two pirates were killed.

According to police reports, seven AK-47 rifles, pistols and a missile launcher were recovered from the suspects.

On Tuesday, the British Minister for Armed Forces, Bob Ainsworth said the Royal Navy had intensified patrols in the international waters to curb the increased cases of piracy.

The move to prosecute the aspects came as a positive effort towards stemming the rising cases of piracy along Somalia coastline.

But even as the suspects were being handed over to Kenyan authorities on Tuesday, Somali pirates hijacked three other ships despite an onslaught by an Indian warship which fired at a pirate boat off the Somalia coastline.

Indian Naval Spokesman Nirad Sinha said the Indian stealth frigate INS Tabar deployed in the Gulf of Aden on an anti-piracy mission, attacked the ship late on Tuesday after coming under fire from gunmen on board the pirate vessel.

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"This vessel was similar in description to the ‘mother vessel’ mentioned in various piracy bulletins," Sinha told French news agency AFP.

"The INS Tabar closed in on the mother vessel and asked her to stop for investigation. But on repeated calls, the vessel’s threatening response was that she would blow up the naval warship if it approached,” he said.

Sinha said pirates were seen roaming on the upper deck of the main vessel with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

"The vessel subsequently fired on the INS Tabar, and the warship retaliated in self defence," he said. "Explosions were heard, possibly due to exploding ammunition that was stored on the vessel."

Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarers Association separately told Capital News that the three ships hijacked include a Thai fishing boat, a Hong Kong-registered cargo and a Greek bulk carrier.

“The ships were hijacked on Tuesday night but we have not been able to contact the crew on the ships,” Mr Mwangura said on telephone.

“They were all seized by different groups of pirates in the Gulf of Aden,” he added.

The hijacking came even as the Royal Navy and other foreign naval forces continued to patrol the Somalia waters and other volatile parts in the Gulf of Aden.

The Sirius Star, one of the world’s newest super-tankers with oil worth an estimated $100 million, was hijacked by another pirate group far out to see further south on Saturday and remained in the control of the Somali pirates for a fifth day.  A ransom demand had already been sent but no figures were disclosed.

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