German shipping firm deploys private anti-piracy guards

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A German shipping company is deploying private security guards aboard some of its ships off the Somali coast and rerouting other vessels after a deadly hijacking, its chief executive said Monday.

"Private security personnel will be contracted in order to improve the protection of our seafaring colleagues," Niels Stolberg, president and CEO of Beluga Shipping, told AFP.

In the meantime "some vessels have been rerouted around the Cape of Good Hope" in a bid to avoid the most dangerous waters around the Horn of Africa, Stolberg added in a statement.

The measures follow the January 22 hijacking of the Antigua and Barbuda-flagged "Beluga Nomination" in the Indian Ocean, just north of the Equator and some 800 nautical miles north of the Seychelles.

It was the third Beluga ship to be hijacked by Somali pirates.

The 12 Polish, Filipino, Russian and Ukrainian sailors sent out distress messages and managed to evade capture for two-and-a-half days by hiding behind heavy steel plates in a purpose-built "panic room".

The pirates eventually found the room and forced their way in, capturing the crew, according to the shipping company, which criticised the fact that anti-piracy naval vessels arrived too late.

Two anti-piracy patrol vessels from Denmark and the Seychelles later shadowed the captured ship.

The Seychelles ship then opened fire, setting the Beluga Nomination's engine room ablaze, killing one pirate.

In retaliation, the pirates killed one member of the crew, according to the company.

Two other members of the crew then managed to escape aboard a lifeboat while two more are missing, feared dead, the Bremen-based company said.

The seven remaining crew members, including the Polish skipper, have since arrived off the Somali coast and the company is seeking to obtain their release.

© 2011 AFP

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