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Piracy latest: two European tankers seized off Somalia

Brussels:  Two European-owned tankers have been hijacked off the Somali coast, prompting an alert for other vessels to watch for a pick-up in pirate activity, AFP  writes, quoting the EU's anti-piracy naval mission.

The Maritime Security Centre run by the EU naval force said that the 9,000-tonne Greek-owned, Panamanian-flagged M.V. Nipayia was seized on Wednesday with its crew of 19. A Greek merchant marine ministry spokesman said the chemical tanker's Russian captain and 18 Filipino crew members were in good health and that the boat's owner, Lotus Shipping, had begun negotiations with the pirates.

The incident was followed early on Thursday with the capture of the 23,000-tonne Norwegian-owned and Bahamian-registered M.V. Bow-Asir with an unspecified number of crew. Salhus Shipping, which owns the tanker, said in a statement from Norway that the crew numbered 27 members of different nationalities and that they had contacted the company after 16 to 18 pirates came aboard with automatic weapons.

"We have no reports of any injuries," said company director Per Hansen. "We are doing our utmost to ensure the safety of the crew, and have established communication lines with naval forces, insurance companies, flag state and charterer."

Meanwhile, authorities in the Seychelles said three sailors from the Indian Ocean archipelago had been held hostage by Somali pirates since their catamaran was hijacked in late February.

"Contact has been established with the kidnappers and discussions to secure the release of the hostages are ongoing. The objective of the negotiating team is for the safe return of all three hostages," Seychelles police chief Ernest Quatre said in a statement.

Ransom-hunting Somali pirates attacked more than 130 merchant ships in the region last year, an increase of more than 200% on 2007, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

The number and success rate of pirate attacks has declined slightly since the start of the year, because of unfavourable sea conditions and an increased foreign naval presence in the Gulf of Aden.

Greece, which is home to the biggest commercial fleet in the world, called on the European Union "to play a more active role" in cracking down on piracy after the latest two boats were captured.

Merchant Marine Minister Anastasis Papaligouras said the EU should "expand the rules of engagement and the area patrolled by the European naval force." He also called on shipping companies "to inform with total accuracy and in good time the competent services" about the movements of boats.

"The pirates are not the only ones with weapons, the international community and Greece have them as well," Papaligouras said. In order to "to protect the present and future of our shipping" all means of intervention would be exhausted," he added.

The rules of engagement of the European Atlanta flotilla charged with protecting shipping off Somalia meant it could use "all means including force".

The EU launched its first-ever naval operation in December with six warships and three surveillance planes to patrol pirate-infested seas in the Horn of Africa. The EU vessels are facing the daunting task of covering an area of around one million square kilometres. Norway, Japan, the United States, China, Russia and other countries also have naval forces also operating in the area.  [27/03/09]

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