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Cruise operators work around piracy

BERLIN – A German cruise ship plans to evacuate passengers in Yemen and fly them to the next port of call today to avoid any possible encounters with pirates off the coast of lawless Somalia.

Several other cruise operators said Tuesday they were also shifting or canceling tours that would have taken clients past Somalia, as nations and companies around the world debated how to confront the piracy dominating the Gulf of Aden.

The European Union said its anti-piracy mission would station armed guards on vulnerable cargo ships – the first such deployment of military personnel during international anti-piracy operations in the crucial waterway.

But that deployment would not cover cruise ships, and at least two companies have already altered or canceled routes that would have brought passengers within the reach of pirates.

The M/S Columbus, on an around-the-world trip that began in Italy, will drop off its 246 passengers today at the Yemeni port of Hodeidah before sailing through the gulf, the Hapag-Lloyd cruise company said.

Passengers will take a charter flight to Dubai and spend three days at a five-star hotel waiting to rejoin the 150-meter (490-foot) vessel in Oman’s port of Salalah for the remainder of the trip. The Hamburg-based company called the shift a “precautionary measure.”

Piracy has become rampant off the Somali coast, and recently pirates have begun targeting cruise liners as well as commercial vessels. On Nov. 30, pirates fired upon the M/S Nautica – a cruise liner carrying 650 passengers and 400 crew – but the massive ship outran its assailants. Other ships have not been so lucky.

Pirates have attacked 32 vessels and hijacked 12 of them since NATO deployed a four-vessel flotilla in the region Oct. 24 to escort cargo ships and conduct anti-piracy patrols.