.Somali pirates hijack 2 tankers in 24 hours

Medeshi March 26, 2009
Somali pirates hijack 2 tankers in 24 hours
BRUSSELS – Pirates armed with machine guns pursued and captured a Norwegian chemical tanker off the coast of Somalia on Thursday, the owners said, less than 24 hours after a smaller Greek-owned vessel was seized in the same area.
The U.S. 5th Fleet, which patrols the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden, confirmed both hijackings and said they happened in the same area but separate from the gulf, one of the world's busiest — and now most treacherous — sea lanes.
The 23,000-ton Norwegian-owned Bow Asir was seized 250 miles (400 kilometers) off the Somali coast on Thursday morning, and the 9,000-ton Greek-owned Nipayia, with 19 crew members, was attacked about 450 miles (720 kilometers) off Somalia on Wednesday afternoon, the European Union's military spokesman said.
Norway's shipowner's association said the Bow Asir had a crew of 27 with a Russian captain, but the 5th Fleet said there were 23 crew on board. Fleet spokesman Lt. Nate Christensen said the Norwegian ship was Bahamian-flagged, but he did not know its cargo. U.S. Cmdr. Jane Campbell confirmed the hijacking on Wednesday of the Nipayia.
Both vessels are chemical tankers but their cargoes were not immediately made public
A Nairobi-based diplomat said the Nipayia had 18 Filipinos on board and a Russian captain. He said the ship is managed by Athens-based Lotus Shipping, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
The owner of the Norwegian Bow Asir, Salhus Shipping AS, said it received a security alert message from the Bow Asir at 0729GMT saying the ship was being chased by two small boats with suspected pirates on board.
At 0745GMT, the captain reported that the pirates had boarded the vessel, and three hours later, Salhus Shipping received an e-mail from the ship confirming that 16 to 18 pirates carrying machine guns had gained control, managing director Per H. Hansen said in a statement.
"We have no reports of any injuries," he said. "We are doing our utmost to ensure the safety of the crew, and have established communication lines with naval forces, insurance companies, flag state and charterer."
NATO announced Thursday that its anti-piracy flotilla of five ships was resuming patrols off the Horn of Africa, joining an international squadron already operating in the region.
The flotilla will join at least 20 warships from the EU, the U.S., China, Russia and other navies are patrolling the region in an effort to prevent pirate attacks on the sea lanes around the Horn of Africa.
An earlier NATO mission — sent to the region in October in response to appeals by the United Nations — was replaced in December by an EU flotilla. Its main task is to escort cargo ships chartered by the U.N. World Food Program carrying humanitarian aid to Somalia, which has been without a functioning government since 1991.
Naval officers say controlling an ocean area the size of Western Europe is difficult, even with the help of ships' helicopters and maritime reconnaissance aircraft.
Pirate attacks off the Somali coastline hit unprecedented levels in 2008. The pirates made 111 attacks and seized 42 vessels, mostly in the Gulf of Aden last year. Seven have been seized so far this year, although there were roughly 10 times as many attacks in January and February 2009 as there was over the same period last year. There have been almost daily attacks in March, including an incident in which a Korean sailor received a bullet wound in the head.

Associated Press correspondents Katharine Houreld in Nairobi, Kenya, and Katarina Kratovac in Cairo, Egypt, contributed to this report.

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