Friday, November 2, 2007


Report: Somali pirates want U.S. Navy to back off

Story Highlights
NEW: Pirates want U.S. warship to move away, wife of crewman says
At one point U.S. Navy opened fire to destroy pirate skiffs tied to Japanese ship
23 crew members from the Philippines, South Korea and Myanmar aboard
Navy also helped a North Korean ship overtaken by pirates earlier in the week

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- Pirates who hijacked a Japanese tanker off Somalia earlier this week are demanding a U.S. warship shadowing the vessel back off, the wife of the tanker's foreman said Friday.

A pirate skiff burns after being hit by gunfire from the destroyer USS Porter off Somalia this week.

"Apparently the navy ship was getting closer to them," Tess Villanueva, wife of the crew's foreman, Laureano, told The Associated Press in the Philippines. "The good news would be if they (pirates) leave the ship."
Villanueva said the information was relayed to her late Thursday by Redentor Anaya, vice president for operations of SeaCrest Maritime Management Inc., which recruited the Filipino crew for the Golden Nori.
Negotiations have started for the release of the Golden Nori, anchored in Somali waters with 23 crew members from the Philippines, South Korea and Myanmar, said Josefina Villanueva, Laureano's sister.
Josefina Villanueva said there had been no ransom demand from the pirates. "The talks are just starting. I think the pirates will later on demand something," she said.
"We're very worried," she added. "We're holding daily prayers in our house."
The U.S. Navy's guided missile destroyer USS Porter came to the aid of the Japanese chemical tanker this week, at one point opening fire to destroy pirate skiffs tied to it.
It was not known Friday which U.S. Navy ship was near the tanker now.
On Thursday, the U.S. Navy said that it intended to remove the pirates from the Golden Nori, which was carrying benzene.
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Benzene, an industrial solvent, is both highly flammable and can be fatal if too much is inhaled.
On Friday, Philippine Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Esteban Conejos said the captain of the ship contacted the Japanese company that owns the vessel the day before and reported that the crew was fine.
There has been no direct contact between the Philippine government and the pirates, he added.
"The problem is there is no central government in control (in Somalia)," he said.
Earlier this week, a North Korean tanker overrun by pirates was taken back after crew members overpowered the hijackers in a bloody fight. The hijackers were being held aboard the ship until they can be handed over for prosecution at a port.
After the clash, Navy personnel boarded the North Korean boat to treat the wounded. The U.S. efforts came despite its hostile relations with the communist country over its nuclear program.
"You'll always find our Navy prepared to help any ship in distress and certainly any ship that is confronting pirates," said Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the top American envoy to six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear disarmament.
Piracy "is a very serious security problem on the African coast. These are not pirates who will remind you of Johnny Depp. These are quite different kinds of pirates," Hill told reporters in Seoul, South Korea.
"So, I think we were pleased to be able to help in this regard and I hope the [North] understands that we did this out of the sense of good will that we have on this," he said.
Somali pirates are trained fighters, in some cases linked to powerful Somali clans, outfitted with sophisticated arms and equipment, including GPS satellite instruments. They have seized merchant ships, ships carrying aid, and once even a cruise ship.


NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) -- Pirate attacks worldwide jumped 14 percent in the first nine months of 2007, with the biggest increases off the poorly policed waters of Somalia and Nigeria, an international watchdog reported Tuesday.

Suspected pirates ride a boat off the coast of Somalia in March 2006.

Reported attacks in Somalia rose rapidly to 26 up from eight a year earlier, the London-based International Maritime Bureau said through its piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. And some of those hijackings have turned deadly.
"The seafaring industry is very concerned about this," said Cyrus Mody, a senior analyst with IMB. "There is absolutely no regard for law in that area. Not only is it not good for business in Africa, but it blocks humanitarian aid and is bad for the general stability of the continent."
The political instability in Somalia gave pirates "totally free rein without any sort of deterrence from the law," Mody said. "They've got a free hand right now."
Somalia has had 16 years of violence and anarchy, and is now led by a government battling to establish authority even in the capital. Its coasts are virtually unpoliced.
Piracy off Somalia increased this year after Ethiopian forces backing Somali government troops ousted an Islamic militia in December, said Andrew Mwangura, program coordinator of the Seafarers Assistance Program which independently monitors piracy in the region.
During the six months that the Council of Islamic Courts ruled most of southern Somalia, where Somali pirates are based, piracy abated, Mwangura said.
At one point, the Islamic group said it was sending scores of fighters to crack down on pirates there. Islamic fighters even stormed a hijacked UAE-registered ship and recaptured it after a gunbattle in which pirates -- but no crew members -- were reportedly wounded.
In May, pirates complaining their demands had not been met killed a crew member a month after seizing a Taiwan-flagged fishing vessel off Somalia's northeastern coast.
Pirates even targeted vessels on humanitarian missions, such as the MV Rozen, which was hijacked in February soon after it had delivered food aid to northeastern Somalia. The ship and its crew were released in April, but the World Food Program has since relied on more expensive air deliveries for Somalia.
Mwangura told The Associated Press that "some elements" in the Somali transitional federal government and some businessmen in Puntland, a northeastern Somalia region, are involved because "piracy is a lucrative business."
Somali government officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
IMB director Pottengal Mukundan urged ships to stay as far away as possible from the coasts of Somalia and Nigeria.
"The level of violence in high-risk areas remain unacceptable. Pirates in Somalia are operating with impunity, seizing vessels hundreds of miles off the coast and holding the vessel and crew to ransom, making no attempt to hide their activity," he said.
Indonesia remained the world's worst piracy hotspot, with 37 attacks in the first nine months of 2007. But that was an improvement from 40 in the same period a year earlier, IMB said.
Stephen Morrison, Director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said much piracy is linked to weak law of the sea and weak legal institutions.
"The pirates go out and hit ships with food relief cargo, they hit tourist liners," Morrison said. "There's a lawless environment with weak states and a weak institution. When there's opportunity, motivation and means, that's where there are clusters of piracy."
Oil-rich Nigeria suffered 26 pirate attacks so far this year, up from nine in the same period last year.
A Nigerian navy spokesman, Capt. Henry Babalola, said criminals are now targeting the most vulnerable vessels -- shipping trawlers -- because authorities have cracked down on crude oil theft. The pirates also seize valuable communications gear.
Mwangura said hundreds of thousands of dollars in ransom have been paid to secure the release of vessels hijacked this year and part of the money is, "paid through bank accounts of individuals in (Kenyan cities) Nairobi and Mombasa."
The IMB said Southeast Asia's Malacca Strait, one of the world's busiest waterways, has been relatively quiet with 198 attacks on ships reported between January and September, up from 174 in the same period in 2006.
It said 15 vessels were hijacked, 63 crew members kidnapped and three killed.
Joint efforts by Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia have kept piracy under control in the Malacca Strait, Mody said. Those states had poured a considerate amount of additional resources into fighting piracy since last year, including increased patrolling and law enforcement on the water.