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Pirates step up attacks off Africa’s eastern coast

Pirates attacked two more ships off Somalia over the weekend, after a cruise ship was hit on Saturday, a sea piracy watchdog said, warning that the problem was out of control.
/ Source: Reuters

Pirates attacked two more merchant ships off Somalia over the weekend, one close to where a cruise ship was hit on Saturday, a sea piracy watchdog said on Monday, warning that the problem was out of control.

The London-based International Maritime Bureau said a large bulk carrier and a roll-on, roll-off cargo ship were attacked on Saturday and Sunday off the eastern coast.

The latter was attacked with heavy machine gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades close to where a U.S. cruise liner carrying holidaymakers had been ambushed on Saturday.

"They opened fire with RPGs and machine guns, the bridge window was completely shattered — the problem is totally out of control," Jayant Abhyankar, deputy director of the IMB, told Reuters.

The IMB declined to name the ships but said both managed to outrun the pirate gangs who gave chase in speed boats.

No one was injured in the attacks.

Calls for beefed-up security
Abhyankar called on coalition ships in the area to coordinate patrols in international waters off the Somalian coast to safeguard important merchant shipping routes.

"The waters have become a pirate's charter," he said.

Worried about the security of seafarers, a major maritime union said on Monday it had contacted the U.N. International Maritime Organisation to ask for the U.N. Security Council to assist in the fight against piracy.

"Piracy is a world problem, a growing plague feeding on global trade, and sad to say it goes far beyond just this one area," said John Bainbridge of the International Transport Workers' Federation.

"It's time for decisive action against piracy and armed robbery of ships wherever they happen," he said in a statement, adding that the growing anarchy in Somali waters was particularly worrying.

Contacted by Reuters, the IMO said the problem of piracy, including the wave of attacks off Somalia, was very much on the agenda and had already been referred to the Security Council.

"Our secretary-general has already been involved in informal talks with Kofi Annan. ... Wheels are already in motion," a spokesman said.

He said IMO was due to table and vote on a resolution calling for action to be taken at a higher level.

28 attacks since mid-March
On Saturday, pirates firing rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns tried to board a U.S.-owned cruise ship about 100 miles off the Somali coast.

The ship, carrying more than 300 people, escaped and no one was hurt.

The IMB said the latest incidents brought the total number of attacks to 28 since mid-March after two years of relative calm.

The IMB said it had revised down the total number of attacks in that time because of an accounting error.