Pirates hijack merchant ship

Vessel carrying wheat, crew of 25 seized off coast of Yemen

November 19, 2008|By Borzou Daragahi and Edmund Sanders | Borzou Daragahi and Edmund Sanders,Los Angeles Times

NAIROBI, Kenya -

Pirates prowling the treacherous waters off the Horn of Africa hijacked another merchant ship yesterday, at least the second in four days, amid growing international concern about a 21st-century version of an ancient security threat.

The Hong Kong-flagged cargo ship Delight and its 25-member crew were captured late yesterday morning off the coast of Yemen, Beijing's New China News Agency reported, citing the official Maritime Search and Rescue Center. The vessel was hauling 36,000 metric tons of wheat to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, the news service reported.

U.S. forces in the Middle East confirmed the hijacking but could provide no further details.

Meanwhile, the 1,000-foot-long Sirius Star, a Saudi-owned oil tanker hijacked Saturday by suspected Somali pirates, was moored off the central coast of Somalia, the boat's operator said. The ship was anchored yesterday several miles off the coast within sight of a Somali fishing region considered a haven for seafaring bandits, the U.S. military in the Middle East said.

"The ship is anchored off the coast near Harardhere, a traditional pirate stronghold," said Navy Lt. Nathan Christensen, spokesman for the 5th Fleet, based in the Persian Gulf nation of Bahrain.

Piracy in the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden has become a scourge, threatening shipping lanes and driving up insurance costs. The pirates often stage maritime attacks from Somalia, a lawless land with a weak central government facing a violent insurgency by Islamists. Using speedboats that swarm the targets, the machine-gun-toting Somali pirates take control of merchant ships and then hold the vessels, crew and cargo for ransom.

In addition to the Sirius Star and Delight, the International Maritime Bureau has reported at least eight other attacks by pirates on shipping in the region since early last week, most of them warded off by seamen aboard the vessels. The British Navy handed over eight suspected pirates yesterday after they were intercepted Nov. 11 in an attempt to hijack a Danish ship, the MV Powerful.

In an interview with The Times in Nairobi, Kenya, shortly after the hijacking of the Sirius Star was announced, Somali Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein bemoaned the impact of piracy on his nation, which is beset by poverty, hunger and a rebellion by Islamic militants.

"Piracy is disturbing everything in Somalia, disturbing normal life, disturbing trade and commerce, disturbing the movement of humanitarian aid," he said yesterday.

Hussein praised the stepped-up effort by the international community to combat piracy in the region, which has included the dispatch of warships from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. "We are happy to see the international community really trying to intervene," he said. "I hope this will produce some positive effects."

Officials of the Dubai-based company that operates the Sirius Star scrambled to secure the crew, the $120 million ship and up to 2 million barrels of oil worth more than $100 million.

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