Tuesday, February 27, 2007
Three Somali police speedboats and a U.S. military vessel were headed Monday toward a U.N.-chartered cargo ship hijacked by pirates, a senior police official said. Piracy has been rampant off the Somali coast. Somali pirates boarded the MV Rozen — which had just delivered a total of 1,884 tons of food aid in northern Somalia — on Sunday, taking the crew hostage, officials said. It is the third U.N.-chartered ship to be hijacked in Somali waters since 2005. Police boats were within sight of the ship "but we asked them to stop going further because our biggest concern is the safety of the crew of 12 on board," said Col. Abdi Ali Hagaafe, police chief of the Bari region. "We have asked the U.S. navy in the Red Sea ... to help us in the operation, and they told us they have started to move towards the ship," he said. The ship is not in international waters, but "U.S./Coalition forces are in the area and are monitoring the situation," said Lt. Denise Garcia of the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command based in Bahrain.Somali pirates are trained fighters, often dressed in military fatigues, using speedboats equipped with satellite phones and Global Positioning System equipment. They typically are armed with automatic weapons, anti-tank rocket launchers and various types of grenades, according to the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia. The militiamen target passenger, cargo and fishing vessels for ransom or loot, using the money to buy weapons. Somalia's 1,860-mile coastline is Africa's longest. Somalia has not had an effective national government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on one another, throwing the country into anarchy. The transitional government was formed in 2004 with U.N. help. Meanwhile, an unidentified man bombed a fuel-seller's stall Monday, and the blast injured at least five people, including a police officer, a witness said. Dozens of gunmen hired by residents fired into the air to disperse the crowd that had gathered following the blast, fuel vendor Salad Ma'alin Mohamed said by telephone from the scene. Witnesses said the blast occurred near a street in northern Mogadishu that leads to the presidential palace. "A pickup with tinted windows passed by and someone inside hurled a bomb at our fuel stall, which exploded near us," Mohamed said. It was not possible to independently confirm what kind of device caused the blast. Officials were not immediately available for comment. Attacks in the capital, mainly on government buildings, Somali security and Ethiopian forces, have occurred almost daily since the transitional government moved into Mogadishu in late December. Government forces — with the help of Ethiopian troops — had driven out the Islamic movement that seized control of the capital and much of the south last year, seeking to rule the predominantly Muslim country by the Quran.