ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, April 08, 2007
Vol. 41 - No 45

Somali pirates free hijacked ships, Lankan and Kenyan sailors

NAIR, Saturday, (AP)- Somali pirates have freed two merchant ships they had hijacked off the coast of the country, a maritime official said today.

''All the crew are safe aboard both vessels,'' said Andrew Mwangura, head of the Kenyan chapter of the Seafarers Assistance Program.

The ships, the MV Rozen -- a cargo ship that had been delivering U.N. food aid to northeastern Somalia -- and the MV Nimatullah, are now sailing out of Somali waters, he said. Both vessels were released late Friday. Mwangura said a ransom had been paid but he did not have details.

The MV Rozen and its 12 crew members -- six from Sri Lanka and six from Kenya -- were hijacked on Feb 25. The Indian-flagged MV Nimatullah, which was carrying more than 800 tons (725 metric tonnes) of cargo, including cooking oil, secondhand clothing and rice, and its 14 crew were seized last Monday.

The U.N. food agency, which chartered the MV Rozen, welcomed the release of the ship. ''The threat of piracy is, however, very much alive and we urge the Somali Transitional Federal Government and the Puntland authorities to curb this menace,'' said the WFP country director for Somalia, Peter Goossens. Both vessels still remain in danger until they are out of the 12-mile (20 kilometres) territorial limit of Somali waters, Mwangura added. The Rozen was headed for Mombasa, Kenya. The MV Nimatullah's destination was unclear. Its Dubai-based owner, Issa Bhata, could not be reached for comment. It was also unclear whether any of the pirates that had hijacked the ships had been detained by local authorities.

The British-based International Maritime Bureau warned Wednesday there had been a marked increase in pirate attacks in Somali waters. ''Vessels are advised to steer well clear of Somalian waters at all times and only approach once full clearance to enter the port has been received,'' the organization said in a statement posted on its Web site.

The 1,880-mile coast of Somalia, which has had no effective government since warlords ousted a dictatorship in 1991 and then turned on each other, has emerged as one of the most dangerous areas for ships.

Somali pirates are trained fighters, often dressed in military fatigues, using speedboats equipped with satellite phones and Global Positioning System equipment. They are typically armed with automatic weapons, anti-tank rocket launchers and various types of grenades, according to the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia.

In 2005, two ships carrying WFP aid were overwhelmed by pirates. The number of overall reported at-sea hijackings that year was 35, compared with two in 2004, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

The bandits target both passenger and cargo vessels for ransom or loot, using the money to buy weapons.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.