Pirates take tanker in Gulf of Aden

November 29, 2008|By New York Times News Service

BERLIN - Somali pirates firing automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades hijacked yet another ship in the Gulf of Aden yesterday, this time seizing a chemical tanker. A German military helicopter from a nearby warship arrived in time to pull three security guards out of the water, but not soon enough to prevent the hijacking of the ship and the rest of the crew.

The latest attack, in which even trained security personnel aboard could not deter the pirates, demonstrated the urgent need for coordinated action by governments from Cairo to Berlin. But the bureaucratic and legal hurdles facing international institutions and national governments have so far defeated most efforts to deal with the nimble -and increasingly bold - crews of pirates in speedboats.

While the pirates have been buying GPS navigation devices, satellite phones and powerful outboard motors, officials in Europe have been discussing jurisdictional issues surrounding the arrest of pirates on the high seas and even the possibility that the pirates might demand asylum if brought onto European Union shores.

Germany, the world's leading exporter of goods, announced this week that as many as 1,400 military personnel might take part in a European Union mission in the region. But German law requires parliamentary approval for all troop deployments, an outgrowth of the country's uneasiness with the use of military force after the aggression and crimes of the Nazi regime.

If it gets approval, the German military is planning to send a frigate, the Karlsruhe, with some 220 seamen on board, to join in the European Union's first naval mission, expected to include as many as six frigates, three to five airplanes for maritime patrols and some 1,200 people in all. The European Union hopes to coordinate actions with other navies operating in the region, including those from India, Russia and the United States.

But the Germans might not obtain the necessary approvals for their part of the plan in time to join the mission right away, though the plan is expected to be approved before Christmas.

"I cannot believe that we could have this kind of problem, where pirates fool around with the international community," said Bernd Siebert, a member of Parliament and a defense expert with Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats. "The bureaucratic obstacles and legal problems must be overcome."

Forty ships have been confirmed hijacked this year out of almost 100 that have been attacked, according to the International Maritime Bureau. The most spectacular hijacking occurred two weeks ago, when pirates captured a Saudi-owned supertanker, the Sirius Star, worth $100 million and loaded with two million barrels of oil, worth another $100 million.

Pirates have already collected at least $25 million in ransom this year, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, said last week. The Associated Press reported yesterday that a Greek-owned cargo ship taken more than two months ago was released Thursday.

The capture of yet another ship yesterday, the chemical tanker Biscaglia, flying under the Liberian flag, emphasized the problem. The company that provided the security personnel for the ship, Anti Piracy Maritime Security Solutions, based in Poole, England, said in a statement after communicating with its team leader that "the ship came under sustained and heavy attack from automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades."

The security team had been using nonlethal means, including water cannons, to defend the ship. After getting the crew to a safe place aboard the ship, the men were unable to prevent the pirates from boarding and jumped overboard under fire, the statement said. The three men, two Britons and one Irishman, were rescued unharmed by a German military helicopter. Roughly 30 crew members were still on board the ship at the time of the hijacking, according to the International Maritime Bureau, which runs the Piracy Reporting Center.

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