Three vessels hijacked off Somalia

Eric Watkins
Senior Correspondent

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 22 -- Three oceangoing vessels, including two oil tankers, have been hijacked off Somalia this week, according to a report by the International Maritime Bureau (IMB).

On Aug. 21, pirates commandeered a Japanese-operated oil tanker and an Iranian bulk carrier in the Gulf of Aden, just 2 days after a Malaysian tanker with a crew of 39 and a cargo of palm oil was seized in the same area.

Noel Choong, director of the IMB's Kuala Lumpur-based Piracy Reporting Center said the pirates attacked the Japanese tanker less than an hour after opening fire on the Iranian vessel and boarding it.

Choong gave no further details due to safety concerns for the ships and crews involved, but said the IMB was calling on the UN Security Council to act fast to secure the waterway.

"We are very concerned about the number of attacks. We are afraid that unless the UN and the international community do something, ships plying the area would always be in danger," said Choong.

Earlier this year, the US and French governments, deeply concerned about attacks on oil tankers, introduced a draft UN resolution that would allow countries to pursue pirates from the high seas into territorial waters to arrest them (OGJ, May 12, 2008, p. 36).

However, the resolution was later weakened to include only Somali waters after other countries saw it as opening the way for interventionist policies (OGJ, June 16, 2008, p. 34).

Following up on the legislation, however, the Political and Security Committee (PSC) of the European Union (EU) last week approved the principle of coordinated action in terms of fighting against maritime piracy off Somalia.

The EU said that such action, which could begin as early as September, might take the form of an operation coordinated in accordance with the naval asset of member states active in the region.

Legal experts will meet shortly in order to set the conditions for boarding and inspection of vessels, as well as for organizing the detention, transfer, and trial of alleged hijackers.

To undertake such operations, agreements must be undertaken between Somalia and EU member states operating in the region as well as with the neighboring countries.

Meanwhile, the EU's Military Committee and Army staff have been commissioned to work out the various strategic options, so that patrols along the Somali coasts become operational by September.

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com.

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