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Somali pirates out of control: watchdog

KUALA LUMPUR, November 19 – Somali pirate attacks have spun "out of control", becoming more violent, frequent and extending further from the attackers’ bases, a maritime watchdog said on Wednesday.

"What we have seen in these last few weeks is an abnormal increase in violence and ships being hijacked despite the increased security in the area," said Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau’s piracy reporting centre.

"The situation is already out of control," he told AFP. "The United Nations and the international community must find ways to stop this menace."

"With no strong deterrent, low risk to the pirates and high returns, the attacks will continue," he added.

Choong said that in the latest incident, a Thai-operated fishing boat registered in Kiribati was seized off the coast of Yemen in the Gulf of Aden on Tuesday while en route to the Middle East.

"Two speed boats with five to six Somali pirates each came alongside the fishing boat and thereafter hijacked her," he added.

Choong said communications were cut while the ship was reporting the incident. The condition of the 16 crew on board the vessel is unknown.

Also on Tuesday a Hong Kong cargo ship operating out of Iran was hijacked in the same area, with 25 crew on board, the Kuala Lumpur-based IMB piracy centre confirmed.

The China Maritime Search and Rescue Centre said the freighter, The Delight, was carrying 36,000 tonnes of wheat to Bandar Abbas in Iran when attacked.

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Choong said Saturday’s unprecedented incident, when Somali pirates hijacked a Saudi super-tanker carrying 100 million dollars worth of oil, was worrying as this was the largest ship hijacked and the furthest from pirate bases so far.

The Sirius Star, the size of three soccer fields and three times the weight of a US aircraft carrier, was seized on Saturday in the Indian Ocean some 500 miles off the coast of Kenya.

"This is a new area of attack. It is a very worrying sign for them to go as far as 500 nautical miles, we are very concerned by the capability of these pirates now that they are going further away," Choong added.

The international community has increased patrols in the area, thwarting several hijack attempts by heavily armed Somali pirates, but the patrols are unable to prevent all attacks.

Since January the IMB said 94 ships have been attacked in the Gulf of Aden and Somalia. Of those, 38 were hijacked while 17 ships with more than 250 crew are still being held by pirates.


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