Somali pirates give up bid to seize Japanese oil tanker (Roundup)
Apr 21, 2008, 16:36 GMT
Sana'a, Yemen - Somali pirates opened fire on a Japanese tanker in the Gulf of Aden early Monday, but were scared away, according to Yemeni officials and a German military officer.
The vessel was hit by a rocket fired by the pirates sailing in a small boat, said Nippon Yusen KK, the owners of the 332-metre-long crude-oil carrier Takayama.
Yemeni coastguard officials said the tanker was about 145 kilometres off the south-eastern Yemeni port of Mukalla when it came under attack. The pirates had fired a rocket at the ship after they failed to seize it, the officials said.
Nippon Yusen KK said none of the 23 crew - 16 Filipinos and seven Japanese - were hurt in the attack. The ship, which has a capacity to carry around 2 million barrels of oil, was empty at the time of the 04:40 am (0140 GMT) attack, the company said.
Yemeni coastguard forces had 'freed the Japanese oil tanker from Somali pirates,' Yemen's official Saba news agency reported, but the German Navy later claimed the credit.
The tanker Takayama had sent out a radio distress call, 'Tanker has been shot at and hit by armed boat,' the German armed forces said near Berlin.
The Emden, a German frigate patrolling the Somali coast as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, picked up the distress call and headed straight to the scene, sending a helicopter ahead to reconnoitre.
The pirates had fled in their speedboat by the time the Navy helicopter arrived at the scene, said a spokesman for the operational command at Potsdam, near Berlin, adding that the mere threat of naval force had been sufficient to make them flee.
The spokesman said Monday's operation was covered by the doctrine of offering assistance to a ship in distress, which permitted aid in case of immediate threat to life or when other authorities were not helping.
Western navies have not mounted a campaign against piracy since they do not have a legal mandate to fight the pirates.
A source at the Japanese embassy in Sana'a said the ship was slightly damaged and would continue its voyage to the Saudi port of Jeddah on the Red Sea.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the tanker was six hours from the Yemeni port of Aden when it was attacked.
The German Navy has been on patrol at the Horn of Africa since 2002, both to protect international sea lanes and to prevent terrorists or their supplies or drugs crossing the sea between the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.
Piracy off the Somali coast, which lies at the mouth of the Red Sea, has been rife since the country slid into chaos after dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted by warlords in 1991.
Frequent pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden, a major trade route between Asia and Europe, have made those waters the world's most dangerous for pirate activities.
The International Maritime Bureau has advised vessels that are not making scheduled calls to ports in Somalia to keep a distance of 200 nautical miles from the Somali coast.