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Terrorism & Security

Somali forces free hijacked vessel

Amid increasingly brazen pirate attacks, Europe eyes antipiracy patrols.

By / October 15, 2008



Somali forces have freed 11 crewmen from a hijacked ship and arrested a group of armed pirates involved in its seizure. The ship was among at least 30 that have been attacked this year by pirates in Somali waters, the world's most dangerous for commercial shipping.

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The Panamanian ship was freed after soldiers from Puntland, a semiautonomous region of Somalia, boarded the vessel. One soldier died and three were wounded in gun battles before the group of pirates ran out of ammunition and surrendered. No hostages or pirates were hurt.

The rescue comes amid increasingly bold piracy attacks off Somalia's coast. In late September, another ship – a Ukrainian vessel loaded with Russian arms – was seized by pirates who are seeking a $20 million ransom. US Naval ships are stationed nearby, after warnings that the cache of tanks, artillery shells, rocket launchers, and small arms bound for Kenya could be diverted to Islamist forces in Somalia.

According to the Associated Press (AP) the pirates had threatened to blow up the arms ship on Tuesday, but a US military spokesman said that hadn't happened and a spokesman for the pirates said a new deadline may be set.

Reuters reports that Tuesday's armed rescue operation – the second attempt on the Panamanian-flagged vessel – came as European countries unveiled plans to deploy an air and naval force off the Somali coast. European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the EU wanted to protect World Food Program (WFP) deliveries to the Horn of Africa. At least 10 countries have agreed to join the antipiracy operation, with a proposed start date in December.

CNN reports that NATO defense ministers have also agreed to send ships to Somalia's coast to deter pirates. Canadian military escorts have been protecting WFP aid deliveries but that arrangement will end next year. Ali Abdi Aware, the foreign minister of Puntland, which isn't recognized internationally, said more external help is needed to guard the coastline.

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