Friday, January 2, 2009

CAIRO (Agence France-Presse) | Somali pirates hijacked a cargo ship with a crew of 28 Egyptians near the coast of Somalia, the Egyptian foreign ministry said on Thursday.

About 15 pirates, some of them heavily armed, attacked the Blue Star, which carried 6,000 tones of fertilizer, near Bab al-Mandab as it was headed east, said foreign ministry official Ahmed Rizq.

“The crew are hostages … there are efforts under way to conduct the necessary talks to free the ship,” Mr. Rizq said in a statement.

The Blue Star was flying the flag of St. Kitts and Nevis, Mr. Rizq said.

More than 100 attacks occurred in the pirate-infested waters off the coast of the lawless Horn of Africa country in 2008 alone.

Pirates had captured an Egyptian ship with a crew of 25 in September, holding them for almost a month before setting them free. Egypt said it did not pay a ransom for the crew and ship.

The pirates have been undeterred by the presence of foreign navies patrolling in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean in a bid to secure one of the world’s busiest shipping routes.

In a separate incident, a French warship foiled a raid by Somali pirates on a cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden, arresting eight suspects, France’s military command said.

The Premier Maitre L’Her, a French frigate patrolling the waters as part of a European Union task force, intercepted the would-be pirates after twice responding to a distress call from the Panamanian-flagged S. Venus.

After the first distress call, the pirates had taken flight before they could be captured, Capt. Christophe Prazuck, spokesman for France’s general staff told Agence France-Presse.

After the second distress call, the French frigate spotted two light vessels near the cargo ship, which the crew of the cargo ship identified as the pirates’ assault craft, he said.

The French vessel intercepted the boats and arrested eight Somalis on board, confiscating six AK-47 assault rifles, a rocket-launcher and rockets, a grappling hook and two boarding ladders.

The French were heading for the Somali coast to hand them over to “the authorities,” said Capt. Prazuck.

In October, the French navy handed over nine suspected pirates to the authorities in the breakaway state of Puntland in the northeast of the country.

Another 12 suspected pirates are currently being held in France. They were arrested during two separate operations to free the crew of two French yachts in April and September of last year.

In yet another incident on New Year’s Day, a Malaysian military helicopter scared away Somali pirates trying to hijack an Indian vessel in the Gulf of Aden, the International Maritime Bureau told Reuters news agency.

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