Pirates now strike off Indian coast

Monday, 6 December 2010 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Somali pirates are venturing out as far as the west coast of India to ply their “trade”.

Noel Choong, Head of the International Maritime Bureau’s piracy reporting centre in Kuala Lumpur, said the pirates were now rampant in the west coast of India and Maldives.

Their favourite haunt used to be the Gulf of Aden in the Arabian Sea.

“They are now using previously-hijacked vessels as their mother ship in open waters,” he told the New Straits Times yesterday.

However, he declined to comment on the fate of the MV Albedo, the Malaysian-flagged vessel which was hijacked by Somali pirates on Friday some 900 nautical miles east of Mogadishu.

Choong said there were previous cases of piracy by Somali pirates off the coast of India, but the frequency had increased lately. He attributed this partly to the end of the monsoon season in September.

Reminding Malaysian vessels plying international waters to be vigilant at all times, he said: “Maintain round-the-clock visual and radar watch and if possible, try to steer clear of small boats which look ‘out of place’ in the open sea. By doing so, one can avoid running straight into a pirate attack.”

Meanwhile, National Security Council secretary Datuk Mohamed Thajudeen Abdul Wahab said the owners of MV Albedo had not received any ransom demands from the pirates.

“The vessel is being towed to Somalia (by the pirates). Only when they reach their destination, we will know whether or not there will be a ransom demand.

“We are constantly in touch with the owners of the ship to get updates on the ship.”

It is learnt that all forms of communication with the ship is with the hijackers.

The ship is owned by Penang-based Majestic Enrich Shipping Sdn Bhd, which was incorporated in 2008 by Iranian shipping executives.

The container-laden ship is manned by 23 crewmen - Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans and Iranians - and was bound for Mombasa, Kenya, from Jebel Ali in the United Arab Emirates when it was hijacked.

Thajudeen said the council was formulating plans to settle the matter before MV Albedo reaches Somalia, but refused to elaborate.

Piracy has long been a problem in the Indian Ocean off Somalia, which has not had an effective government for the past two decades, enabling piracy to flourish off its coast.

Foreign reports claim that pirates now hold 22 vessels and 521 hostages.

On Aug 19, 2008, the MT Bunga Melati Dua, with 29 Malaysians and 10 Filipinos on board, was hijacked.

Ten days later, MT Bunga Melati Lima, with 36 Malaysians and five Filipinos on board, was hijacked in Yemeni waters. The ships were released by Somali pirates after a ransom was paid.

Media reports claimed the Malaysian International Shipping Corporation had paid US$2 million (S$2.63 million) for the release of each vessel.

Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister senator A. Kohilan Pillay said his ministry was closely monitoring the situation.

“I can confirm there were no Malaysian crew on board and we have yet to get any updates on demands by the hijackers,” he said yesterday.