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Pirates seize two ships off Somalia

Associated Press / March 27, 2009
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BRUSSELS - Pirates armed with machine guns hijacked a Norwegian chemical tanker off the coast of Somalia yesterday, the ship's owner said, an attack that came less than 24 hours after a smaller Greek-owned vessel was seized in the same area.

The US Fifth Fleet, which patrols the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden, confirmed both hijackings and said they took place in the same area but separate from the gulf, one of the world's busiest - and now most treacherous - sea lanes.

The 23,000-ton Norwegian-owned Bow Asir was captured 250 miles off the Somali coast yesterday morning, and the 9,000-ton Greek-owned Nipayia, with 19 crew members, was seized 450 miles off Somalia on Wednesday afternoon, the European Union's military spokesman said.

Both vessels are chemical tankers, but their cargoes were not immediately made public.

Commander Jane Campbell of the US Fifth Fleet said both hijackings took place in a vast Indian Ocean expanse of over 750,000 square miles.

"This activity highlights the complexity of even trying to monitor an area this size," she said.

Campbell said that pirates also tried to hijack Panamanian-flagged boat Wednesday, but that crew members fought them off with fire hoses and sped away.

Pirate attacks off the Somali coastline hit unprecedented levels in 2008, when pirates made 111 attacks and seized 42 vessels, mostly in the Gulf of Aden.

Seven ships have been seized so far this year, although there were roughly 10 times as many attacks in January and February 2009 as there was over the same period last year. There have been almost daily attacks in March.

Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991, when clan-based militias overthrew a socialist dictator, then turned on one another.

Also yesterday, NATO announced its antipiracy flotilla of five ships was resuming patrols off the Horn of Africa, joining at least 20 warships from the EU, the United States, China, and Russia.

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