Brazen Somali pirates strike again

11:27, 19 November 2008
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The eighth ship seized in the area in the past two weeks

Pirates hijacked a Thai fishing boat with 16 crew members off the coast of Somalia, the eighth ship to be seized in the area in the past two weeks, a maritime official said on Wednesday, AFP reported.

The boat was seized on Tuesday in the Gulf of Aden, said Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau`s piracy reporting centre in Kuala Lumpur. Also on Tuesday, an Iranian bulk cargo carrier with 25 crew members was seized in the area, according to earlier reports.

Both vessels were heading to the Middle East when they were hijacked, he said.

The Thai boat, which was flying a Kiribati flag but operated out of Thailand, made a distress call late on Monday as it was chased by pirates in two speedboats but the phone line got cut off midway, he said.

The bulk carrier was flying a Hong Kong flag but operated by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines.

"There is no firm deterrent, that`s why the pirate attacks are continuing. The criminal activities are flourishing because the risks are low and the rewards are extremely high," Choong said.

Tuesday`s incidents bring the number of attacks in Somali waters this year to 95, with 39 ships hijacked.

Thai government spokesman Nattawut Sai-gua said he had not been informed of the development. He said officials are checking with their diplomatic missions in the region.

Choong said 17 vessels remain in the hands of pirates along with more than 300 crew, including a Ukrainian ship loaded with arms and a Saudi Arabian supertanker carrying $US100 million ($A153.35 million) in crude.

The pirates are demanding a ransom for the Saudi super-tanker Sirius Star, a man presented as one of the pirates said on Wednesday, according to an Al-Jazeera audio tape.

"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 on an audio tape produced by the Dubai-based television network.

Seized at the weekend in the Indian Ocean some 800km off the coast of Kenya, the Sirius Star is now anchored at the Somali pirate lair of Harardhere, according to local officials.

The super-tanker was loaded to capacity with two million barrels of oil when it was seized along with its crew of 25 -- 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.

AFP via LiveNews

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