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Pirates hijack two more vessels

Wed., Nov. 19, 2008, midnight

Ship carrying wheat, fishing boat seized

NAIROBI, Kenya – Pirates prowling the treacherous waters off the Horn of Africa hijacked another merchant ship Tuesday, 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-person crew were captured late Tuesday morning off the coast of Yemen, Beijing’s New China News Agency reported, citing the official Maritime Search and Rescue Center. It was hauling 36,000 metric tons of wheat to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, the news service reported.

Also on Tuesday, pirates hijacked a Thai fishing boat with 16 crew members off the coast of Somalia, according to Noel Choong of the International Maritime Bureau. The boat was seized in the Gulf of Aden on Tuesday as it traveled toward the Mideast.

Meanwhile, the 1,000-foot-long Sirius Star, an oil tanker hijacked by suspected Somali pirates Saturday, was moored off the central coast of Somalia, the boat’s operator said. The ship was anchored Tuesday 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.

Piracy in the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden has become a menacing scourge, threatening shipping lanes and driving up insurance costs.

The pirates often stage maritime heists from Somalia, a lawless land with a weak central government facing an 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 Nov. 10 most of them warded off by seamen aboard the targeted vessels.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in Nairobi shortly after the hijacking of the Sirius Star was announced, Somali Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein bemoaned the effect 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 Tuesday.

Officials of the Saudi Arabian company operating 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.

“Our first and foremost priority is ensuring the safety of the crew,” Salah B. Kaaki, president and chief executive officer of Dubai-based Vela International Marine Ltd., operator of the Saudi-owned ship, said in a news release.

U.S. forces dispatched warships to monitor the Ukrainian-flagged merchant ship Faina, which was loaded with tanks and other weapons, after it was seized by Somali pirates in September. The ship is still under control of pirates.


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