Anti-piracy body calls for security boost after French ship seized

7th April 2008, Comments 0 comments

A piracy watchdog called Monday on the international community to boost security on the northern Somali coast where a French luxury yacht was seized.

   KUALA LUMPUR, April 7, 2008 - A piracy watchdog called Monday on the international community to boost security on the northern Somali coast where a
French luxury yacht was seized, saying it has become increasingly dangerous.
   Somali officials said the three-masted, 850-tonne Ponant was seized Friday
with about 30 crew. A dozen of the attackers remained onboard and sailed the
vessel to a pirate lair off Somalia's northeast coast.
   The International Maritime Bureau's Malaysia-based Piracy Reporting Centre
said it was possible the culprits were the same gang responsible for a spate
of recent attacks off the northern Somali coast.
   The centre's manager, Noel Choong, said anti-piracy activities, including
patrols by coalition warships, had suppressed incidents on Somalia's east
coast, but pirates had now headed north to the highly strategic Gulf of Aden.
   "Definitely this year we have seen a shift from the east to the north...
and that's a lot more dangerous because it's a main shipping route," he told
   "There are a lot of tankers carrying vulnerable cargo, and we are worried
about an environmental disaster if there's any attack on chemical or crude oil
   Choong said ships sailing along the eastern coast had been warned to keep
at least 200 nautical miles offshore, but that vessels passing through the
narrow Gulf of Aden were forced to stay relatively close to land.
   "We want to raise this with the international community so they can act on
this. Maybe they can have more patrols and naval boats in the area," he said,
though noting that resources could be stretched thin.
   "It's difficult for them to patrol the north and east because it's a very
long coastline. If you increase in the north then there are less in the east."
   "The UN Security Council or someone must take some form of action to stop
these pirates from attacking innocent seafarers," Choong said.
   "Whether it's the military or something else, we have to show that we mean
business by securing the area. If not, it will just continue."
   Somali pirates usually demand a ransom once the ship has reached a port. In
mid-March, a Russian tug boat and six crew members were released for 700,000
thousand dollars (450,000 euros) after being held captive for six weeks.
   Choong would not comment on the situation of the French vessel, saying the
centre did not want to jeopardise ongoing rescue efforts, but he said an
incident had been anticipated because of a string of recent events.
   Two days before the Ponant was seized, a Japanese-owned chemical tanker in
the same area was attacked with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades,
but coalition warships intervened and it managed to escape.
   "After the Russian boat was released, we thought the pirates would be
looking for another boat. Then after the Japanese tanker escaped we
anticipated they would look for another vessel to hijack," Choong said.
   "We sent out a warning... and unfortunately the French boat was hit."
   The piracy centre chief said it was possible the same gang was responsible
for the series of incidents, "but we can't be 100 percent sure."
   The Ponant, equipped with lounges, a bar and restaurant, had been due to
host a cruise between Alexandria in Egypt and Valletta in Malta on April
21-22, its Marseille-based owner said.
   A French naval vessel is now watching the yacht as it lies at anchor, and a
defence source told AFP on Monday that France has sent an elite army unit to
east Africa that can intervene if negotiations with the pirates fail.
   Somalia, with no central government and 3,700 kilometres (2,300 miles) of
coastline, is one of the world's top piracy hot-spots.


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