Somali pirates hijack four ships in 48 hours


SOMALIA:SOMALI pirates have hijacked four ships in 48 hours as they launched a new wave of plunder on the high seas.

So far this year 27 ships have been attacked in the Gulf of Aden or along the southern coast of Somalia.

Noel Choong of the International Maritime Bureau said an international naval force set up to deter pirates was following three vessels seized on Thursday.

"All the three ships are still moving and appear to be heading toward Somali territorial water. A warship has been dispatched to monitor and track the vessels," he said.

The waters around Somalia are among the most dangerous in the world for commercial shipping.

With no central government or effective law enforcement since 1991, the country has been riven by years of clan violence and has been divided into a series of fiefdoms controlled by warlords.

An interim government, established with international support in 2004, has failed to assert its authority and continues to battle Islamist insurgents.

The result is a country where thugs and gangsters control almost every aspect of life - including the waters.

A pirate network is believed to stretch from Europe to Dubai, identifying targets and feeding intelligence to the gangs based along Somalia's long coastline.

The past week has seen an unprecedented wave of attacks.

An Iranian bulk carrier with 29 crew and a Japanese-operated chemical tanker with 19 crew were seized within an hour of each other in the Gulf of Aden on Thursday. Brigands struck again later in the day, snatching a German-operated cargo ship with nine crew flying the flag of Antigua and Barbuda.

Two days earlier armed men hijacked a Malaysian palm oil tanker. In all, seven vessels are currently being held.

Andrew Mwangura, who monitors piracy for the Seafarers' Assistance Programme, based in the Kenyan port of Mombasa, said it was the first time three ships had been seized in a day.

"There have been a lot of gunmen joining the pirate gangs. They are making good business and it is an attractive choice for many young men at the moment," he said.

Earlier this year the United Nations Security Council gave permission to warships to chase hijacked vessels into Somalia's territorial waters.

A six-nation coalition, including Britain and the US, has been escorting ships carrying aid and monitoring the seas.

But Mr Mwangura said they were still failing to tackle the problem. He added that flags of convenience also hampered an effective response.

"They may have a flag of one country, be owned by a second and have a crew from a third, which adds a lot of complications to trying to free the vessels," he said.