Somali pirates hijack 2 tankers

March 26, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
-- Pirates hijacked two chemical tankers off the Somali coastline within 24 hours, the European Union said Thursday. A 9,000-ton Greek-owned vessel Nipayia with 19 crew members was attacked about 450 miles (720 kilometers) off Somalia on Wednesday afternoon, and a 23,000-ton Norwegian-owned vessel was seized 250 miles (400 kilometers) off the coast on Thursday morning, an EU military spokesman said.

The Norwegian vessel, the Bow Asir, had a crew of 27 with a Russian captain and was hijacked by 16 to 18 pirates, the Norwegian Shipowners' Association said. Poland said the ship's owner informed the Foreign Ministry that five of the sailors on board were Polish.

The U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, which patrols the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden, confirmed the hijacking of the tanker Bow Asir but said there were 23 crew on board. The ship is Bahaman-flagged, said fleet spokesman Lt. Nate Christensen said. He did not know the ship's cargo.

U.S. Cmdr. Jane Campbell confirmed the hijacking on Wednesday of the Panamian-flagged Nipayia in the same area as the Norwegian ship -- an expanse of over 750,00 square miles. This area is separate from the Gulf of Aden, which has seen most pirate attacks that have made one of the world's busiest sea lanes so dangerous.

A Nairobi-based diplomat said the Greek vessel 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 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, the company said. Three hours later, Salhus Shipping received an e-mail from the ship confirming that 16 to 18 pirates carrying machine guns had gained control of the vessel, 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."

At least 20 warships from the European Union, NATO, the U.S., China, Russia and other navies are patrolling the region in an effort to prevent pirate attacks on the busy sea lanes around the Horn of Africa.

Pirate attacks off the Somali coastline hit unprecedented levels in 2008. NATO, the European Union, the U.S., China, Russia, India and other countries have since then responded to appeals by the United Nations by deploying their warships in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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