Somali pirates opened fire on an Israeli-owned cargo ship in the Indian Ocean but failed in their attempts to board the vessel, a shipping executive said on Sunday.
Rafi Danieli, managing director of the Zim shipping line, said company headquarters received a message from the captain of the ship on Saturday morning saying that pirates in speedboats were firing at him and attempting to take over the ship, but without success.
"We had installed coils of barbed wire round the ship's hull, which it appears prevented them from getting on board," he told Israeli Army Radio.
Danieli said the pirates, however, did not give up and for several hours trailed the vessel, the Maltese-flagged Africa Star, which was on its way from Mombassa, Kenya, to the Red Sea port of Djibouti.
In the meantime, he said, Zim notified the Israeli navy and the foreign ministry, which in turn urgently contacted an international anti-piracy task force patrolling the nearby Gulf Of Aden.
"A British plane took off, which arrived in the area to patrol and helped to chase off the pirates," Danieli said. Israeli media said all of the Africa Star's crew, none of whom were Israeli, were safe and unharmed after the attempt. Danieli said it was the first ever on an Israeli-owned vessel.
Piracy is rampant around the coast of Somalia, which has not had a functioning government for 18 years. In the past year, maritime attackers have captured trawlers, small fishing boats, cruise ships and even a cargo ship laden with heavy weapons.
Last week, pirates attacked a German military supply ship, which returned fire, pursued the seven perpetrators and then detained them with the help of other ships participating in the anti-piracy mission.