Suspected pirates captured by Seychelles Coast Guard

NAIROBI, Kenya – The Seychelles took custody of nine pirate suspects yesterday and accused them of trying to hijack a cruise liner carrying 1,000 tourists. The island nation had dispatched an aircraft to trace the men through the Indian Ocean, resulting eventually in the capture of the suspects. The MSC Melody, a luxury cruise liner on its way to Europe from the southern tip of Africa, was attacked Saturday. Pirates in speed boats raced up to the ship under cover of darkness and unleashed a volley of automatic gunfire, but security guards aboard the linger fought them off, returning fire and spraying them with a fire hose. The ship made a distress call, and the Seychelles Coast Guard sent an aircraft to pinpoint the location of the pirates, according to a government statement. The plane spent five hours in the air surveying the ocean, photographing the pirates’ skiff and marking its position. The Coast Guard transmitted the information to a Spanish frigate, which tracked the alleged pirate skiff and stopped it Sunday. Nine people on the skiff were apprehended and handed over to the Seychelles, the statement said. Although the pirates are believed to be from Somalia, an African nation with coastline on the Indian Ocean, the attempted hijacking happened closer to the Seychelles, roughly 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) north of the archipelago. The distance from Somalia is a sign of the sea bandits’ increasing skill, said analysts. The Seychelles, whose economy depends heavily on tourism, appears intent on sending a strong message by both arresting and offering to try the pirates. ‘While the attack took place far away from the Seychelles islands and posed no danger to its citizens, it is imperative that the territorial waters of the Seychelles remain safe,’ said Seychelles President James Michel in a statement. The Melody, carrying about 1,000 passengers and 500 crew, was en route from Durban, South Africa to Genoa, Italy, on a 22-day luxury cruise. Unlike most vessels passing through the pirate-infested waters, the ship was guarded by an Israeli private security unit who startled the pirates by opening fire. Officials on cruise liner said that the pirates trailed the ship for another 20 minutes, before giving up and changing course. Also yesterday in the Philippines, the government asked Pacific Rim transportation ministers to aid its ships through the treacherous Indian Ocean amid a slump in global trade. Philippines Transportation Secretary Leandro Mendoza appealed to officials from the 21-member Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting to address the menace of piracy to provide armed escorts for Philippine ships, said Transportation Undersecretary Maria Elena Bautista. A Somali governor, Musa Gele, said yesterday that residents in northeastern Somalia helped local security agents arrest 19 suspected pirates. Gele, governor of the northeastern Somalia region of Bari, said officials will make sure innocent fisherman are freed and the rest are charged in court. He said the arrests took place Sunday in Alula and Bargal, on Somalia’s northeastern tip. Somalia, Kenya’s neighbor on Africa’s eastern coast, has become the staging ground for dozens of attacks by pirates in small boats. Analysts say the problem cannot be solved by security alone, arguing that piracy is a byproduct of Somalia’s tailspin into anarchy following the 1991 overthrow of its government. Ship-owners sometimes pay large ransoms, which are split between a number of pirates. Individual pirates can net $5,000 to $10,000 per successful hijacking in a nation where the average person earns around $600 a year. In Germany, the deputy commander of the U.S. Africa Command said yesterday that the only long-term solution is to resolve the political turmoil within Somalia. ‘We have to get at the root causes, and the root causes are on the land,’ Mary Yates, a senior U.S. diplomat who serves as Africom deputy for civil-military activities, told reporters in Berlin.