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US vessel evades capture but pirates take more

Article published on the 2009-04-15 Latest update 2009-04-15 10:15 TU

Suspected pirates arrested by the US navy in the Gulf of Aden on 11 February 2009(Photo: Reuters)

Suspected pirates arrested by the US navy in the Gulf of Aden on 11 February 2009
(Photo: Reuters)

The Liberty Sun was attacked late on Tuesday by pirates wielding automatic weapons and rockets, although it managed to escape after calling for assistance from the US navy.

None of the crew members were injured in the attack, although the ship sustained damage to the bulkhead from rockets.

The Liberty Sun cargo ship(Photo: Reuters)

The Liberty Sun cargo ship
(Photo: Reuters)

The ship, owned by Liberty Maritime, was on its way to Mombasa from Houston in Texas, to deliver food aid for African nations. The USS Bainbridge, involved in the rescue of Captain Phillips, came to assist.

In other pirate attacks, the Greek-operated MV Irena, carrying a crew of 22 Filipinos, was hijacked on Tuesday.

The Lebanese-owned, Togolese flagged cargo ship, the Sea Horse, was also seized, taking the total number of ships hijacked since the US navy operation on Sunday to four.

“What we’ve seen is a very busy period of piracy over the last two weeks, and a large portion of that is down to the fact that the pirates have been busy out in the Indian Ocean, so they’ve been in the area least patrolled by the international navies,” says Roger Middleton, a specialist on Somali pirates.

Analysis: Roger Middleton, Chatham House

15/04/2009 by Daniel Finnan

On Monday the pirates said they would retaliate against US and French forces who have been involved in active operations to free captives or retake hijacked vessels.

The lifeboat used in the kidnap of Captain Phillips is towed away for evidence on 13 April 2009(Photo: Reuters)

The lifeboat used in the kidnap of Captain Phillips is towed away for evidence on 13 April 2009
(Photo: Reuters)

“The US action to free Captain Phillips from the Maersk Alabama - that was quite a unique situation,” Middleton told RFI. “Captain Phillips was being held in a small boat, easier to storm, he was an American citizen, so I don’t think we should necessarily take as the template for what will happen in the future.”

Meanwhile, UN special representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah backs the military operations.

“The hijacking of this US flagship is just drawing more attention, and rightly so,” he said. “And US legitimate action, like French legitimate action, deserves to be considered, and supported.”

Interview: Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, UN representative for Somalia

15/04/2009 by Daniel Finnan

The situation in the country escalated on Monday as US Congressman Donald Payne visited Mogadishu. Militants fired at his plane as it left the runway.

“This mortar at the airport is a new manipulation, I contributed to the trip of Congressman Donald Payne to Mogadishu, where he spent six hours,” says Ould-Abdallah. “When he took off some people started lobbing mortars, which they can do from three to five kilometres away. In a country after 20 years of war it is not a big event. He heard about this attack when he landed in Nairobi.”

The hijacking of the Maersk Alabama forced the US to become more involved in the ongoing pirate situation, prompting the visit of Congressman Payne to the country, after the successful operation to free Captain Phillips.

“For the US it is increasingly very important to address anarchy in Somalia,” Ould-Abdallah told RFI.

“I think the same way they are reviewing policy in Africa, Afghanistan, the Middle East and other places, they are reviewing it in Somalia. And hopefully they will help Somalis, who have been taken hostage by smaller groups - claiming to be under this banner, or that banner. But in fact, they are living in anarchy. This needs to be stopped.”

As the crisis continues it is becoming clearer that the problem needs action on the ground, as well as at sea.

“The grievances they use for their PR to gain support within Somalia, those are legitimate grievances,” says Middleton. “The problem of overfishing and illegal fishing in Somali waters, is a very serious one, and does affect the livelihoods of people inside Somalia […] the dumping of toxic waste on Somalia’s shores is a very serious issue, which will continue to affect people in Somalia long after the war has ended, and piracy is resolved."

“Piracy is threatening legitimate authority in Somaliland, in Puntland, in Somali as a whole,” said Ould-Abdallah.

On Wednesday, French authorities began questioning three pirates captured by forces during a hostage rescue operation in the Indian Ocean.

The pirates are being held in the western French city of Rennes, and are suspected of hijacking the Tanit yacht.