Somali piracy: Kenyan navy kills three, Chinese ship hijacked, British couple freed

Monday, November 15, 2010

Three pirates were killed late Friday during a presumed attack in error, while other pirates successfully hijacked the Yuan Xiang, a Panamanian-flagged vessel with an all-Chinese crew, and a media embargo was lifted regarding the release of a British couple whose yacht was seized more than a year ago over the weekend.

At 11 p.m. on Friday a Kenyan patrol vessel was near Kilifi in Kenyan coastal waters “when four suspected Somali pirates on board a speed boat climbed the vessel, mistaking it for a merchant vessel,” according to Kenyan Defence Department spokesman Bogita Ongeri. He said three were shot dead but the fourth “dived into the sea with bullet wounds during the scuffle,” and is thought to have died. The speed boat with more pirates on board fled, the three bodies were taken to Coast General Hospital, Mombassa.

Ongeri promised more details after discussions with the vessel’s captain adding, “[t]he government will not relent in its fight against piracy.” Kenya, along with the Seychelles, performs international prosecutions of pirates, but convictions are rarely secured; 26 suspects were freed last week by Kenya owing to lack of evidence or jurisdiction.

Andrew Mwangura of the Seafarers’ Assistance Program said Saturday, “I can confirm the pirates hijacked Yuan Xiang on Friday at midnight Kenyan time in the Arabian Sea near India. The vessel has 29 Chinese crew.” The Yuan Xiang was sailing outside the zone covered by a multinational task force combating piracy. Reports suggest its captors are heading to Somalia.

Retired British couple Paul and Rachel Chandler were released after their yacht Lynn Rival was captured near the Seychelles en-route to Tanzania 388 days ago, in October 2009. An injunction prevented reporting the release until 56-year-old Rachel and 60-year-old Paul, from Kent, were out of Somalia.

“Men with guns came aboard,” Paul told ITV News over the phone a week after their capture. “Then we were forced to sail … toward Somalia.” The seizure was witnessed by UK refueling ship RFA Wave Knight but they were not helped for fear their lives would be endangered. “This is not piracy and must not be reported as such,” Paul said in custody. “It is kidnapping and extortion and even torture.” It is unclear if money changed hands; US$7 million was originally demanded but UK government policy forbids ransom payments. “We’re fine,” said Paul. “We’re rather skinny and bony but we’re fine.”

New figures show 790 people have been kidnapped by Somali pirates this year, on course to beat last year’s record of 867. Of these, 435 remain hostage. Dr Alex Coutroubis and George Kiourktsoglou of London’s University of Greenwich say crews are repelling more attacks, and attackers have responded with increased violence. “As it gets harder for pirates to capture ships, the Somali gangs are more likely to fire at sailors with automatic weapons in order to force vessels to stop”. Some tankers have had rocket propelled grenades fired at them.

Last year saw 217 hijack attempts. This year, to date, 140, and 40 ships seized – versus 47 for the whole of 2009.

Comments are closed.