- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 3, 2009

NAIROBI, Kenya | Special forces on a Portuguese warship seized explosives from suspected Somali pirates after thwarting an attack on an oil tanker, but later freed the 19 men. Hours later and hundreds of miles away, another band of pirates hijacked a cargo ship, a NATO spokesman said Saturday.

Pirates are holding 17 ships and about 300 crewmen, including the Ukrainian crew of the Greek-owned cargo ship Ariana, hijacked overnight.

The attack on the Ariana, about 1,000 miles from the sea corridor of NATO pickets, and the seizure of explosives from the group that attacked the crude oil tanker MV Kition may indicate the pirates are adapting their tactics as crews become better trained in counterpiracy measures.

Sailors are aware that pirates generally attack during the day and that some guidelines suggest designating a safe room with a bulletproof door where crews can lock themselves in case of an attack. Such a room would still be vulnerable to being blown open with explosives.

It was the first time NATO forces found pirates armed with raw explosives, Lt. Cmdr. Alexandre Fernandes said from the Portuguese frigate the Corte-Real, which responded to the attack. The Corte-Real had sent a helicopter to investigate a distress call from the Greek-owned and Bahamian-flagged Kition late Friday, about 100 miles north from the Somali coast in the Gulf of Aden.

The suspects fled to a larger pirate vessel without damaging the Kition, but were intercepted by the warship an hour later.

Portuguese special forces found four sticks of P4A dynamite - which can be used in demolition, blasting through walls or potentially breaching a the hull of a ship - which were destroyed along with four automatic rifles and nine rocket-propelled grenades.

Andrew Mwangura of the East Africa Seafarers’ Assistance Program said explosives were also commonly used in illegal fishing.

The 19 pirate suspects were released after consultation with Portuguese authorities because they had not attacked Portuguese property or citizens.

Decisions on detaining piracy suspects fall under national law; Cmdr. Fernandes said Portugal was working on updating its laws to allow for pirate suspects to be detained in such situations.

Nearly 100 ships have been attacked this year by pirates operating from the lawless Somali coast despite deployment of warships from more than a dozen countries to protect the vital Gulf of Aden shipping route.

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