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U.S. Navy, Russians seize 26 pirates off Somalia

Somali pirates released a Japanese ship held hostage for months, but a maritime watchdog on Friday warned that pirates are stepping up their attacks as weather improves.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Somali pirates released a Japanese ship held hostage for months, but a maritime watchdog on Friday warned that pirates are stepping up their attacks as weather improves in the Indian Ocean and they look to rake in more ransoms.

U.S. and Russian warships patrolling off Somalia have arrested 26 suspected pirates this week, rescuing three ships there were under attack.

But London-based International Maritime Bureau said six ships were attacked Wednesday and Thursday alone. “We haven’t seen such an increase in attacks for some time,” said Noel Choong, chief of the bureau’s reporting center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

U.S. and other military officials had spoken of an easing in pirate attacks in early January. But the reason may have been stormier weather at that time.

Improving weather may be making it easier for the pirates in their small speedboats to ambush ships, said Choong. Since the beginning of January, 22 vessels have been attacks, including three that were hijacked, he said. Pirates may also be trying to replenish their stocks, since seven ships have been released over the past month.

In the latest release, pirates freed a Japanese-owned cargo ship and its 23 crew members after nearly three months in captivity, a diplomat based in Nairobi, Kenya, said Friday.

The MV Chemstar Venus, owned by a Japanese shipping company and registered in Panama, was seized by armed Somali gunmen on Nov. 15 in the Gulf of Aden between Somalia and Yemen. On board were five South Koreans and 18 Filipinos. The diplomat, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said the ship was released Thursday night. There was no immediate word if a ransom was paid.

One ship recently released, the MV Faina, arrived in Kenya Thursday and its Ukrainian-Russian crew returned home Friday after four months in captivity.

Piracy off lawless Somalia reached record levels last year when pirates seized 42 vessels, mainly in the key shipping lane of the Gulf of Aden.

Governments around the world responded by sending warships to the area, and they have scored some successes in thwarting attacks.

On Thursday, Russian authorities arrested 10 pirates after a helicopter tracked two speed boats closing in on an Iranian-flagged fishing trawler. The boats returned to their base — a larger boat nearby — and Russian authorities said they dumped their weapons in the water.

Russian forces eventually detained the three boats and the pirates and confiscated rifles, grenade-launchers, AK-47s, illegal narcotics, money, a bag of sugar and a bag of rice, the Russian navy said.

U.S. authorities detained nine suspected pirates Thursday during an attack on an Indian-flagged vessel. A day earlier, they captured seven others, who were taken to detention on the USNS Lewis and Clark.

Associated Press Television News footage from the Lewis and Clark showed the men in white jumpsuits, their legs and hands shackled. They were given a meal, a blanket and soap and a towel and kept in a holding area surrounded by razor wire and guarded by U.S. troops.