Pirates fire on Dutch ship off Tanzania: watchdog
AFP - 2 hours 48 minutes ago
KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 7, 2008 (AFP) - Heavily-armed pirates attacked a Dutch container ship with 19 crew off Tanzania, sparking a fire on board but failing to take over the vessel, a global maritime watchdog said Sunday.
The fresh attack on Saturday came as the European Union prepared to launch its first-ever naval operation, patrolling pirate-infested seas near the Horn of Africa with six warships and three surveillance planes.
"Pirates believed to be from Somalia fired semi-automatic weapons and fired a rocket from a RPG at the Dutch-operated vessel," said Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau piracy reporting centre in Kuala Lumpur.
"The ship caught fire but the captain successfully took evasive action to prevent a hijack. The ship sustained damage but managed to continue its voyage," he told AFP.
Choong said the ship, flying a Hong Kong flag, was attacked by eight pirates on two speedboats.
The incident happened 450 nautical miles east of Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania and 350 nautical miles west of the Seychelles, he said.
Choong urged seafarers to be on alert when plying the African coast.
"Pirate attacks are spreading to a wider area down south from the Somalia coast. This is not a good sign. Pirates have become bolder and more dangerous. They are also firing automatic weapons and rockets indiscriminately," he said.
Choong said the ship captain noticed a white hull fishing boat believed to the pirates' mother ship near the scene of the attack.
More than a dozen foreign merchant vessels and their crew are currently being held by gunmen in the area where the northeast tip of the Somali coast juts into the Indian Ocean.
The pirates, heavily armed and using high-powered speedboats, prey there on a key maritime route leading to the Suez Canal, through which an estimated 30 percent of the world's oil transits.
They hold ships for weeks at at time in a bid to secure large ransoms from governments or owners.
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