Somali pirates free Greek tanker

December 13, 2008 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Dec 13 – Somali pirates have released a Greek chemical tanker seized in October but three crew members are feared dead, a Kenyan maritime official said Saturday.

"The MT Action was released by pirates," Andrew Mwangura, who heads the Kenyan chapter of the East African Seafarers Assistance Programme, said in a statement.

"She is currently limping to safe waters. It is feared that three crew members lost their lives under questionable circumstances," he added.

Mwangura did not specify if ransom had been paid or how the three crew members died.

In Athens, the maritime ministry said the crew consisted of 17 Georgians and three Pakistanis but did not elaborate on the seamen’s fate.

The Panama-flagged vessel with 20 crew members was seized on October 10 in the Gulf of Aden.

Somali pirates are still holding at least 14 foreign vessels and more than 300 crew members to ransom, including an arms-laden Ukrainian cargo and a Saudi-owned super-tanker carrying two million barrels of crude oil.

The latest release came as world powers prepared for a United Nations Security Council meeting on Tuesday during which means of combating piracy are to be examined.

The United States has circulated a draft resolution seeking a green light for pirates to be hunted even on Somali soil.

If adopted the resolution would be the fourth approved by the council since June on piracy off Somalia’s coast.

The new text, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, would authorize for one year states already involved in fighting piracy off Somalia to "take all necessary measures ashore in Somalia, including in its airspace, to interdict those who are using Somali territory to plan, facilitate or undertake acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea".

Gathered in Nairobi, experts and officials from 40 countries looked at a UN-sponsored initiative seeking to enhance the judicial systems of Somalia’s neighbours to facilitate the arrest, transfer and prosecution of pirates.

"If I see a piracy event, I can engage, I can pursue, as long as I maintain positive identification on the vessel that is doing the piracy, and I can engage with lethal fire," the commander of the US Fifth Fleet Vice Admiral Bill Gortney said on Friday.

"The problem is once I take them, and they are alive, I don’t have any place to take them and hold them accountable for their action," he explained.

The European Union this week launched an anti-piracy operation, its first-ever naval force, in a bid to stamp out piracy, which is threatening one of the world’s most vital shipping lanes.

NATO and a 16-country naval coalition are also present in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean, but the pirates, operating on small speedboats, have demonstrated their ability to adapt and attacks have continued.


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