Somali pirates have seized a United Arab Emirates-flagged cargo ship loaded with weapons bound for the anarchic Horn of Africa nation in contravention of a U.N. arms embargo.
Somali pirates have seized a United Arab Emirates-flagged cargo ship loaded with weapons bound for the anarchic Horn of Africa nation in contravention of a U.N. arms embargo, maritime experts said on Monday. Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme told that the ship, which he believed was using the fake name Al Mizan, had been hijacked on Sunday and was now being held near the northern Somali town of Garacad.
"She is one of the regular weapons carriers circumventing the U.N. arms embargo on Somalia," Mwangura said.
The country has been torn by 18 years of civil war and hardline Islamist rebels linked to al Qaeda are fighting to topple President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed's U.N.-backed-government.
Some 19,000 civilians have died since the start of 2007 and more than 1.5 million have been driven from their homes, triggering one of the world's worst humanitarian disasters.
In the latest pirate attack, gunmen from Somalia opened fire on an unidentified merchant vessel far out in the Indian Ocean on Monday, about 400 nautical miles northeast of the Seychelles.
The merchant vessel caught fire after being hit by bullets and a rocket-propelled grenade. Mwangura said there were no casualties and that the captain remained in control.
"There have been 12 pirate events in this area in the last 30 days. There is a high probability of attacks in this area for at least the next 24-48 hours. Weather conditions are expected to remain favourable for piracy...through this period," he said.
There was a lull in hijackings during this season's monsoon rains, but the pirates have stepped up their attacks in recent weeks and now hold at least 11 vessels and more than 200 crew.
Deal to free Spaniards?
Also on Monday, Spanish fishermen being held hostage said they believed a deal had been struck to free them. Ricardo Blach, first mate of the Basque tuna boat Alakrana, said he understood Spain's government had agreed to send two accused pirates back to Somalia in exchange for the crew's release.
The Spanish navy captured the two Somalis soon after pirates overran the Alakrana on October 2 and took its 36 crew hostage. They are set to face trial in Spain for kidnapping.
"It seems almost certain that they are going to send the (captured) pirates here," Ricardo Blach told Spanish state radio on Monday. "We want to believe it, good news, even if it's clutching at straws, because of the tension we have here."
The pirates holding the crew have said they would not negotiate a ransom for their release until Spanish authorities freed their two colleagues.
"In the morning (on Sunday), they were telling us in signs that they were going to cut our throats. Now the head of the pirates is smiling," Blach said in separate comments to the Spanish daily El Mundo.
Environment Minister Elena Espinosa told state TV the Spanish government was exploring various options. Judge Baltasar Garzon, who ordered that the two suspects be brought to Spain, said Madrid should not cave into pressure.
"I believe there are legal ways to find a solution to this conflict and without a doubt that is going to happen," he told Europa Press agency.
The pirates said last week they had taken three men from the Alakrana ashore. But Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said he believed the whole crew remained on board.