Somali Troops Storm Hijacked Ship

Mogadishu, Somalia, map
AP (file)
Somali forces rescued a hijacked ship carrying food to this desperately poor country, as a top security official accused U.S. troops stationed off the lawless coast of failing to combat growing piracy.

Seven suspected pirates were arrested and three others wounded in Tuesday's raid on the Dubai-flagged al-Khaleej, which had been seized Monday, said Abdullahi Said Samatar, security affairs minister in Somalia's semiautonomous Puntland region.

"It is sad that the American forces off the coast of Somalia are here for fun and are not combatting the pirates," Samatar told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Puntland, near the spot where the boat was seized.

The U.S. Navy has led international patrols to combat piracy along Somalia's 1,880-mile coast, which is the longest in Africa and near key shipping routes connecting the Red Sea with the Indian Ocean.

Wracked by more than a decade of violence and anarchy, Somalia does not have a navy, and a transitional government formed in 2004 with U.N. help has struggled to assert control.

A spokesman for the transitional government, Abdi Hagi Gobdon, welcomed French and U.S. efforts to combat piracy and guard the country's coastline.

The transitional government "is not in position to safeguard the country's waters," he told the AP on Tuesday. "Therefore, Somalia welcomes and encourages the initiative of the U.S. and France to establish international forces to combat pirates along the Somali coastline."

It was not immediately clear how many people were on board the al-Khaleej, which originated from the United Arab Emirates and was carrying food bound for Somalia, Samatar said. Authorities did not announce that the ship had been seized until after security forces had stormed it and rescued the hostages.

The U.S. and France are drafting a U.N. resolution that would allow countries to chase and arrest pirates off Somalia's coast, responding to a spate of attacks, including this week's hijacking of a Spanish tuna boat.

France's U.N. ambassador, Jean-Maurice Ripert, said the U.N. resolution would authorize foreign governments to pursue pirate vessels into territorial waters, make arrests and prosecute suspects.

"We want to do it fast, but it could take one or two weeks because it has to be by consensus - it's not confrontational," he told the AP.

Countries in the region are also deeply concerned. Last week, 13 nations from the Western Indian Ocean, Gulf of Aden and Red Sea agreed to a draft proposal that calls for sharing and reporting information on piracy, stopping ships that are involved in piracy and prosecuting those involved.

Chris Trelawny, head of security at the U.N.'s International Maritime Organization, which organized the meeting, said the solution to Somalia's piracy problem is "not at sea. It is the restoration of law and order in that country."

The draft, if signed by each country, will go to the IMO for implementation. There was no immediate timeframe.

The push by key U.N. Security Council nations to tackle the issue follows an alarming increase in piracy by well-armed bandits, prompting international demands for better protection of the world's shipping lanes.

Pirates using rocket-propelled grenades hijacked a Spanish tuna boat Sunday off Somalia's coast. A day later, pirates fired on a Japanese oil tanker, unleashing hundreds of gallons of fuel into the Gulf of Aden, the body of water between Somalia's north and the southern coast of the Mideast country of Yemen.

On April 4, Somali pirates hijacked a French luxury yacht in the Gulf of Aden. A French military helicopter later captured six suspected pirates who are facing preliminary charges in France after the yacht's crew was released April 11.

The father of one captive on board the 250-foot Spanish tuna boat, called the Playa de Bakio, told a radio station that the 26 crew members were being treated well, though the hijackers have stolen some personal items from their cabins.

The hijackers also appear to have military training, said Jose Mari Arana, who spoke to Radio Euskadi Monday after speaking to his son by cell phone.

"They say a commander is going to come to negotiate," Arana said.

The fishing boat is now anchored just off Somalia's coast, the Spanish government said in a statement. An official in Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's office said he could not confirm a statement by the wife of the boat's skipper that the crew has been taken ashore.

The International Maritime Bureau says piracy is on the rise, with seafarers suffering 49 attacks between January and March - up 20 percent from the period last year.

Nigeria ranked as the No. 1 trouble spot. India and the Gulf of Aden tied for second, with each reporting five incidents.

Nearly two dozen piracy incidents were recorded off of Somalia since January 2007, according to Andrew Mwangura of the Kenya-based Seafarers Assistance Program.