Ships sailing on pirate-prone gulf had been warned

Saturday September 27 2008

The luxury yacht Ponant after it was seized off

The luxury yacht Ponant after it was seized off the Somali coast on April 4, 2008. The yacht was sailing to the Mediterranean Sea from the Seychelles when it was seized in the Gulf of Aden. Photo/FILE 

Dave Opiyo
By Dave Opiyo
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The attack by Somali pirates would have been avoided had the owners heeded warnings of insecurity along the Gulf of Aden.

Last month, the International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre in Malaysia issued a red alert to ships “to be extra vigilant” while sailing through the Gulf of Aden following increased hijackings.

The bureau specifically mentioned the Eastern and Northeastern coasts in Somali as the “high risk areas for attacks and hijacking,” and advised vessels not making scheduled calls to ports in Somalia to keep “as far away as possible from the Somali coast”.

“They should ideally sail more than 250 nautical miles until a more permanent and encouraging sign is seen. Mariners are advised to report any suspicious boats to the centre,” read the warning from the bureau’s website.

The bureau alert came only 48 hours after four ships had been attacked and hijacked and crews robbed and captured by the armed Somali pirates.

The pirates, warned the bureau, fired automatic weapons and Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG) in attempts to board and hijack vessels.

“Once the attack is successful and the vessel hijacked, the pirates sail towards the Somali coast and thereafter demand a ransom for the release of the vessel and crew,” said the bureau.

“All vessels transiting the area are advised to take additional precautionary measures and maintain strict 24 hours radar and anti-piracy watch using all available means,” the statement went on.

“Watch keeping crews should look out for small suspicious boats converging on vessels. Early sighting and accurate assessment will allow the ships to increase speed and manoeuvre to escape pirates and at the same time request various authorities for assistance.”

In the alert, the bureau reported the existence of three suspicious vessels in the Gulf of Aden believed to be pirate mother vessels looking to attack ships with the intent to hijack.

And they gave the description of the suspected trawlers - long white, Russian made stern trawlers with names “Burum Ocean or Arena or Athena”.

The bureau also listed the hotspots or piracy prone areas in Africa. They include Lagos and Bonny River in Nigeria, Dar es Salaam in Tanzania where the pirates are said to be targeting ships in ports and anchorages.

The world currently transports 80 per cent of all international freight by sea. More than 10 million cargo containers are moving across the world’s oceans at any one time.