WORLD> Africa
Luxury US cruise ship outruns Somali pirates
Updated: 2008-12-03 07:44

NAIROBI, Kenya – The luxury American cruise ship teeming with hundreds of tourists just might have been too much for the Somali pirates to resist.

US Navy image of Somali pirates who seized the Ukrainian cargo ship MV Faina in October 2008. Somalia's insurgent Islamist leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys has called on pirates to immediately release a giant Saudi oil tanker and other foreign vessels being held in Somali waters. [Agencies]

But the bandits, riding in two skiffs and firing rifle shots at the gleaming ship, were outrun in minutes when the captain of M/S Nautica gunned the engine and sped away in the Gulf of Aden, a spokesman for the company said Tuesday.

Still, the implications had the pirates hijacked the ship add a new dimension to the piracy scourge as NATO foreign ministers groped for solutions at a meeting in Brussels and the United Nations extended an international piracy-fighting mandate for another year.

The potential for massive ransom payments from the families of hundreds of rich tourists on a pleasure cruise may encourage similar attempts, especially following the successful capture in recent weeks of a Ukrainian cargo ship laden with tanks and a Saudi oil tanker.

Related readings:
In pirate bases, business is booming
Crew escapes Somali pirates
Nigerian waters 'worst pirate hotspot'
Pirates treating hijacked crew 'like prisoners of war'
Somali pirates hijack Saudi oil tanker

And the brazen attack also raises questions: What was a cruise ship doing in the pirate-infested waters of the Gulf of Aden? How many such targets are sailing these seas, and how can they be protected?

Even the pirates' motives were in question: they could simply have been testing the defenses of the massive ship, rather than making a real effort to hijack it.

Sunday's attack on the M/S Nautica comes several weeks after a NATO mission served mainly to underscore the impotence of the world community: A handful of Western ships can do little to prevent attacks in a vast sea, and without the right to board hijacked vessels, they can only watch as the booty is towed to port.

"It is very fortunate that the liner managed to escape," said Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center in Malaysia, urging all ships to remain vigilant in the area.

Some of the world's leading cruise companies said Tuesday they are considering changing their itineraries to avoid going near the coast of Somalia following news of the weekend attack.

Cunard's public relations manager Eric Flounders said the company has two liners, the Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria, scheduled to go through the Gulf of Aden sometime in March but that the company "will obviously consider changing the itinerary" should the situation not improve.

And P&O Cruises' PR Michele Andjel said the company is considering whether to reroute the Arcadia, which is due around the Gulf of Aden sometime in January.

Lt. Nathan Christensen, a Bahrain-based spokesman for the US Navy's 5th Fleet, said 21,000 ships cross the Gulf of Aden every year, but he did not have a figure for how many cruise liners are included in that figure.

"We are not advising ships to go a different way, but we do advise to go through the international corridor within the Gulf of Aden," Christensen said, referring to a security corridor, patrolled by the international coalition.

The Nautica is not the first pleasure boat to be attacked.

   Previous page 1 2 Next Page