January 29, 2009

Pirates hijack oil tanker

POLITICS - Today Somali pirates hijacked the MV Longchamp, a German oil tanker off the Horn of Africa. The ship's 13-man crew is alive, but being held hostage.

No ransom demands have been made yet. The ship was seized off the southern coast of Yemen and had been traveling in a corridor secured by EU military forces when it sent a distress signal before dawn that it was under attack.

Ships and helicopters were dispatched, but they arrived too late.

Somali waters are now patrolled by more than a dozen warships from countries including Britain, France, Germany, Iran and the United States. China and South Korea have also ordered warships sent to the region to protect their vessels and crews from pirates.

The warships have helped many cargo ships fight off the pirates, but they were not near the Longchamp when it was taken. The German military reported two more suspected attempts by pirates to attack ships in the Gulf of Aden early today, but were prevented from taking the ships.

Somalia is a lawless nation of about 8 million people does not had a functioning government since warlords overthrew a dictator in 1991. The country is a haven for pirates.

166 crew on nine ships are still being held hostage off the coast of Somalia, not including the Longchamp. Six other hijacked ships have been released this month, including an oil tanker freed for a reported $3 million ransom.

Today's hijacking was the first attack since January 14th. For the past two weeks, strong winds have made it difficult for pirates to launch their small boats, but the weather has now improved.

There have been 15 attacks so far in 2009 and three ships seized. Pirates made an estimated $30 million hijacking ships for ransom in 2008, seizing more than 40 vessels off Somalia's 1,900-mile (3,000-kilometer) coastline.

See Also: Oil pirates drown in rough seas.

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