Somali pirates seize Spanish fishing boat

3rd October 2009, Comments 0 comments

Somali pirates on Friday captured a Spanish fishing boat in the Indian Ocean as calmer waters at the end of the monsoon season made ocean-going vessels more vulnerable to attacks.

NAIROBI - Somali pirates on Friday captured a Spanish fishing boat in the Indian Ocean as calmer waters at the end of the monsoon season made ocean-going vessels more vulnerable to attacks.

The 100-metre (358-foot) Alakrana and its crew of 36 was seized in the early hours of Friday in the high seas between Somalia and the Seychelles, officials said.

A Spanish military official told AFP in Madrid that the Alakrana sent a distress call to another Spanish fishing vessel in the vicinity which in turn alerted a frigate with the European Union's anti-piracy naval force.

A plane has been dispatched to make contact with the Alakrana, whose crew comprises Spaniards, Indonesians, Ghanaians, Madagascans, Senegalese and Seychellois.

Spanish military operations chief Jaime Dominguez Buj told reporters in Madrid that the surveillance plane spotted two armed pirates on board the vessel.

He added that it would take the Spanish frigate 35 hours to reach the seized boat.

"The main aim is to safeguard the lives of the sailors," a senior government official said.

In a statement, its owners, the Echebastar Fleet, said "it has been impossible to establish contact with the boat."

The Alakrana escaped a previous pirate attack in early September. It is unclear whether it had armed private guards on board, in line with a Spanish government directive.

The Seychelles coastguard said the boat had made a call at Port Victoria on Wednesday and that it was captured outside the archipelago's exclusive economic zone.

An official with Ecoterra International, an environmental group that also monitors piracy, said they were looking into the circumstances of the hijacking.

"We are trying to establish if this is a case of illegal fishing within the Somali waters or an act of piracy," said the official who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity.

"We would like the Spanish authorities to share information concerning the whereabouts of their fishing vessels to be sure that they are not fishing in Somali waters," he added.

In Lisbon, Major Stefano Sbaccanti of NATO's Ocean Shield anti-piracy operation said: "We received information on the possible hijacking of a vessel in the Somali Basin."

"The vessel was last observed at about 400 nautical miles northwest of the Seychelles with armed personnel on deck and a skiff in tow. The vessel has not answered any phone and radio calls since early on in the morning."

The latest hijacking brings to at least five the number of vessels in the hands of Somali pirates. The others include a Taiwanese fishing vessel and Ukrainian, German and Turkish freighters.

According to Ecoterra International, at least 163 attacks have been carried out by Somali pirates since the start of 2009 alone, 47 of them successful hijackings.

Last year, more than 130 merchant ships were attacked, an increase of more than 200 percent on 2007, according to the International Maritime Bureau's Piracy Reporting Centre in Kuala Lumpur.

The US Maritime Administration warned last month that the end of the monsoon season was likely to bring an increase in piracy off Somalia and urged shipping companies to be vigilant.

Calmer waters allow ransom-hunting pirates, who often operate in small boats, to hijack vessels criss-crossing the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden.

Somalia has lacked a central government since it plunged into lawlessness with the 1991 ouster of president Mohamed Siad Barre.


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