Kenya and Egypt are calling for action against Somali pirates operating in the Gulf of Aden while the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) reports that 77 incidents involving sea robbers have been reported since January in that sea way.
The most recent were three last week on Tuesday and one on Wednesday.
On Wednesday last week pirates armed with automatic weapons aboard two speedboats opened fire on a bulk carrier underway. “The pirates boarded and hijacked the vessel and took the 20 crew as hostage. They then sailed the vessel to an undisclosed location in Somalia. The vessel was carrying a cargo of iron ore pellets from Pointe Noire, Canada to Rizhao, China when it was hijacked,” the IMB web site says of the incident.
Pirates fired on ships with small arms in all three incidents reported on Tuesday. In the first incident, at 8am, pirates on speedboats fired at a tanker and attempted to board. The ship took evasive action, transmitted mayday messages and sounded the foghorn. The pirates moved off after 10 minutes.
In the second incident at 1.50pm, pirates in a small speedboat approached a general cargo ship underway. The master raised the alarm, took evasive action and the crew activated fire hoses.
“Pirates fired at the ship with automatic weapons and the crew took shelter. They tried to board the ship using a ladder but the pirate boat’s skipper fell overboard and they aborted the boarding and rescued him.”
The master then contacted North Atlantic Treaty Organisation warships on anti-piracy duty in the area. “During a second approach to the vessel, the pirate boat’s engine failed. A coalition warship responded and advised the master to steer a course towards them. The warship escorted the ship and later the ship resumed voyage.”
In the third incident, at 3pm, twelve pirates in three fast attack boats were noticed departing from a white coloured fishing vessel acting as pirate mother vessel. The master took evasive action, activated the vessels ship security alert system, sent mayday messages and mustered the crew to in a safe compartment.
“For five minutes, the pirates aggressively fired towards the accommodation of the tanker and attempted to board. A coalition warship responded to the mayday messages and sent an aircraft to the scene.
“The master maintained evasive manoeuvres. The pirates briefly stopped the attack to re-grouped and then attacked again. The aircraft made a very low pass over the pirates and then dropped some ordinance on them. The attempted attack was aborted and the situation became safe. After 20 minutes, a French helicopter arrived to check the situation and master informed them about the pirate mother vessel’s location. Crew and vessel safe”.
French news agency AFP reports Egypt, a main beneficiary of Gulf of Aden sea traffic, has now called an urgent meeting of Arab countries bordering the Red Sea to combat the pirate scourge.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry says Egypt and Yemen will coordinate the meeting, which will be held “later this month.”
Cairo says the upsurge in piracy has not harmed traffic through the Suez Canal – which is Egypt’s third largest source of revenue after tourism and remittances from expatriate workers.
Last month the British think tank Chatham House said in a report that increasingly brazen hijackings by Somali pirates, who commandeered a Ukrainian freighter carrying a shipment of tanks in September, threatened Suez traffic.
“The danger and cost of piracy [insurance premiums for the Gulf of Aden have increased tenfold] mean that shipping could be forced to avoid the Gulf of Aden/Suez Canal and divert around the Cape of Good Hope,” it said.
“At a time of high inflationary pressures, this should be of grave concern,” the report added.
The Chinese Xinhua agency says the Kenyan government has now also called on the international community to stamp out piracy.
The agency quotes Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki as saying the increased incidence of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off the Somalia coastline has taken on dangerous dimensions.
“Pirate attacks continue to disrupt delivery of humanitarian aid and are a big threat to international sea-borne trade in the vital shipping arteries of the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean,” Kibaki told a regional summit on Somalia in Nairobi.
Meanwhile NATO says its anti-piracy task group is now in the area and operating under the codename Operation Allied Provider.
Over the weekend, task group flagship, the Italian destroyer ITS Durand de la Penne
escorted a merchant vessel chartered by the African Union (AU) while en route to a port in Somalia.
“This is the third merchant vessel escorted by the NATO Force since its arrival in the operational area on 24 October,” a NATO statement said.
Last week the Greek frigate HS Themistokles escorted a UN World Food Program (WFP) chartered vessel en route from a port in southern Africa to Somalia.
The third ship in the Task Group, the British frigate HMS Cumberland, has been conducting surveillance and deterrence activities.
“I am glad this operation is off to a good start, with practical support for both the World Food Program and the African Union” said NATO Secretary General, Jaap do Hoop Scheffer. “This demonstrates the real-world value of cooperation between international organisations”.
Operation Allied Provider is being conducted by a task group from NATO Standing Maritime Group 2, commanded by Italian Rear Admiral Giovanni Gumiero. The mission assigned to the operation is to conduct maritime operations off the coast of Somalia in order to allow WFP to fulfil its mission of providing humanitarian aid and to help disrupt, deter and defend against pirate activities in the area of operations.