Monday, August 22, 2005
An unidentified ship has been hijacked off the coast of Somalia in the latest in a series of piracy incidents in Somali waters that have prompted dire international maritime warnings, a militia said.
Pirates seized the vessel, believed to be a commercial fishing trawler or a small freighter, some time this week off the south-eastern port town of Kismayo and are holding its crew hostage, the Juba Valley Alliance (JVA) militia said. "Some gunmen, who are really freelancers, are holding it at Kiyoma island," a spokesperson for the JVA, Abullahi Sheikh Ismail, said by phone from Kismayo, about 500km south of Mogadishu. "At this time, I'm not sure of the number of crew who are hostage," he said. "I don't know their nationality, but they look like they are Chinese or related people from Indochina." Ismail said the ship had been in Somali waters illegally but stressed that the JVA, which controls the area of lawless Somalia where the hijacking took place, does not believe its seizure was justified. Details of the incident are sketchy, but unconfirmed reports reaching Mogadishu on Wednesday said the vessel is Chinese-owned and that it may have been under contract to an international relief group when it was boarded. A United Nations-chartered ship, the MV Semlow, which was carrying food aid to Somali tsunami victims, has been held by pirates along with its crew and cargo for nearly two months further north along the coast. The new hijacking was reported just days after the International Maritime Board (IMB) renewed its warning for vessels to avoid the coast of Somalia, citing a recent "alarming" surge in the number of attacks. "The threat posed to vessels operating off the eastern Somali coast is very real and should not be understated," it said in a statement on Monday, adding that "acts of piracy are increasing at an alarming rate". At least 15 violent incidents, including the hijacking of the Semlow, have occurred since mid-March compared with just two last year, it said. On Tuesday, in its weekly international piracy report, the IMB said nine of those incidents have been reported since June 16, many of which involved pirates opening fire on vessels with automatic weapons. The board has been warning ships since June to stay at least 50 nautical miles (93km), and preferably further, away from the Somali coast.