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100 Hostages Held by Somali Pirates

By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, September 12, 2008

CAIRO, Sept. 11 -- Pirates in the Gulf of Aden are holding nine ships with more than 100 passengers for ransom off Somalia, the International Maritime Bureau's Piracy Reporting Center said Thursday.

A 15,000-ton South Korean cargo ship with 21 sailors was hijacked Wednesday. Other captives include a French couple kidnapped Sept. 3 aboard their yacht, which pirates now are using to capture other ships, authorities said.

Pirates released two other ships, a German-owned cargo vessel and a Japanese chemical tanker, after receiving ransoms, the Reuters news agency reported Thursday.

Wednesday's hijacking brought the number of pirate attacks this year in the Gulf of Aden to 50, up from 13 for all of last year, Noel Choong, spokesman for the Piracy Reporting Center in Kuala Lumpur, said by telephone.

"We have never seen this before, these kinds of numbers, the number of ships that have been attacked," Choong said.

The Gulf of Aden, a body of water between Somalia and Yemen, is the main sea route between Europe and Asia. Tankers carrying Middle East oil through the Suez Canal must pass first through the Gulf of Aden. About 4 percent of the world's daily oil supply is shipped through the gulf.

The attacks are being carried out by increasingly well-coordinated Somali gangs armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, maritime officials said. Somalia has been without a functioning government since 1991, and remains one of the world's most violent and lawless countries.

The International Maritime Bureau, an industry group affiliated with the International Chamber of Commerce, and the U.N. International Maritime Organization have urged the world's naval powers to coordinate and act against the pirates. Currently, there is "no deterrence, no policing," Choong said.

Combined Task Force 150, a naval alliance dominated by the United States and based in the Gulf of Aden nation of Djibouti, announced in late August that it would begin patrolling an area within the Gulf of Aden to help protect ships from pirates. The announcement came after three ships were hijacked on a single day, Aug. 21.

The Yemeni government said Wednesday that it would deploy 1,000 soldiers and 16 military vessels against the pirates and work with Japan, Malaysia and other nations to establish a regional anti-piracy center.

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