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Pirates seize Belgian ship

<span class="subhead1" id="ctl00_ContentPlaceHolder_article_NavWebPart_Article_ctl00___SubTitle1__">NATO frees 20 fishermen held as hostages</span>

NAIROBI, Kenya – Somali pirates attacked two ships off the Horn of
Africa today, capturing a Belgian dredger and its 10-man crew. NATO
forces intervened in the other assault, chasing the pirates down and
freeing 20 fishermen on a Yemeni dhow.

As pirates forced the
Belgian ship to slowly head north toward Somalia, 430 miles (700
kilometers) away, a Spanish military ship, a French frigate and a
French scout ship all steamed toward the area to try to intercept it.

In Brussels, government officials held an emergency meeting to discuss the situation and possible intervention.


The high-seas drama underscored the dangers off the coasts of Somalia
and east Africa despite the best efforts of an international flotilla
that includes warships from the United States and the European Union.


Pirates from anarchic, clan-ruled Somalia have attacked more than 80
boats this year and are now holding 18 ships and over 310 crew members
hostage.

In today's first attack, pirates hijacked the
Belgian-flagged Pompei in the Indian Ocean, a few hundred miles
(kilometers) north of the Seychelles islands, said Portuguese Lt. Cmdr.
Alexandre Santos Fernandes, who is traveling with the NATO fleet
patrolling the region.

Belgium reported the ship sounded three
alarms before dawn today indicating it was under attack on its way to
the Seychelles with a cargo of concrete and stones. It had 10 crew: two
Belgians, one Dutch captain, three Filipinos and four Croatians.


"There is no contact with the pirates, not with the crew, not with any
other parties," Jaak Raes, director general of the Belgian Crisis
Center, told reporters. "We are sure that the ship now is heading to
the coast of Somalia.''

Just a few hours after that hijack,
pirates further north in the Gulf of Aden attacked a Marshall
Islands-flagged tanker with small arms and rockets. Fernandes said that
ship, the Handytankers Magic, issued a distress call shortly after dawn
but escaped the pirates using "speed and maneuvers.''

A Dutch
frigate from the NATO force responded immediately to the tanker's
distress call. It trailed the pirates "on a small white skiff, which
tried to evade and proceed toward a Yemeni-flagged fishing dhow" that
had been seized by the pirates Thursday, Fernandes said.

He said
pirates were using the Yemeni vessel as a "mother ship," a boat that
allows the pirates' tiny skiffs to operate far off the Somali coast.


The pirates boarded the dhow and Dutch marine commandos followed soon
after, freeing 20 fishermen whose nationalities were not known. There
was no exchange of fire and Dutch forces seized seven Kalashnikov
rifles and one rocket-propelled grenade launcher.

Seven Somali
pirates were detained, but they were soon released because "NATO does
not have any detainment policy," Fernandes said. The seven could not be
arrested or held because they were seized by Dutch nationals and
neither the pirates, the victims nor the ship were Dutch, he explained.


The Gulf of Aden – a vital short cut between Europe and Asia – is one
of the world's busiest shipping lanes. For that reason, it has been
hard hit by pirates, who can earn $1 million or more in ransom for each
hijacked vessel.

AccuWeather.com says weather in the region is
likely to favor the pirates for the next several weeks. Very small
waves and light winds make it easier for the pirates to operate the
small speedboats they use to attack ships. Unrestricted visibility at
day will help lookouts on vessels watching for attacks, but little or
no moonlight works for the brigands, the weather service said.


Pirates plucked from the sea by navy warships could be tried anywhere
from Mombasa to New York, Paris to Rotterdam – but most are simply set
free to wreak havoc again because of legal issues.

Among the
difficulties facing prosecutors is assembling witnesses scattered
across the globe and finding translators. Many countries are wary of
hauling in pirates for trial for fear of being saddled with them after
they serve their prison terms.

The United States, the European
Union and Britain all have signed agreements with Somalia's southern
neighbor, Kenya, clearing the way for a slew of court cases in the
southern port city of Mombasa.

And the most prominent recent
case – a scrawny Somali teenage pirate who stormed the U.S.-flagged
Maersk Alabama this month and was later arrested by the U.S. Navy –
will be tried in New York.

The captain of the Maersk Alabama,
Richard Phillips, got a hero's welcome Friday when he returned to his
hometown of Underhill, Vermont.

 
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