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Pirate taxi for hire: Egyptian fishermen change jobs

world Updated: Apr 09, 2009 20:10 IST

An Egyptian fishing vessel and its crew have hung up their nets to venture into the more lucrative business of carrying Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden, a watchdog said in a statement.

"An Egyptian fishing vessel has been reported to operate along the Gulf of Aden coast off northern Somalia as mother-ship and decoy for piracy," said Ecoterra International, an environmental group monitoring piracy.

The ship was not hijacked but "was hired by a pirate gang against cash deriving from an earlier ransom payment," the statement said, adding that the pirates now work "together with the crew on their piracy expeditions."

Pirates board their sometimes large prey from tiny skiffs, which they often hide until the last minute on the other side of a larger "mother ship", often a previously hijacked vessel.

Several of the pirates' mother ships are Yemeni fishing vessels and operating from an Egyptian-flagged ship increases their chances of luring unsuspecting victims with distress signals.

Ecoterra said it was trying to confirm that one successful attack had already been launched from the Egyptian "pirate-taxi ship".

Foreign navies have set up anti-piracy missions to patrol the Gulf of Aden which is one of the world's busiest and most strategic shipping routes on the planet, with some 120 merchant ships bottle in or out every day.

Yet the time between the moment a ship knows it is being attacked and the boarding is generally less than 15 minutes and foreign navies stretched thin across a vast area often arrive too late.

Somali pirates have hijacked at least six foreign vessels over the past week alone and close to 50 in 2008, generating millions of dollars in ransom money.