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Pirates attack oil tanker off Somalia

world Updated: Apr 21, 2008 13:12 IST

Heavily armed pirates Monday attacked and damaged a huge oil tanker off the Somali coast using machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, a Malaysian-based maritime watchdog said.

Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau's (IMB) Piracy Reporting Centre, told AFP that the attack, believed to be by Somali pirates, took place under the cover of darkness at 0230 GMT in the Gulf of Eden.

"Pirates on five speed boats attacked the tanker, the size of a football field. It was a night raid. A missile-like rocket was launched at the ship. Initial reports said the ship suffered some damage," he said.

"I believe the Somali pirates could have used rocket-propelled grenades and machine gun fire on the tanker with the aim to board and possibly hijack her," Choong said.

"But the tanker increased speed and managed to prevent the pirates from boarding and taking control of the oil tanker," he added.

Choong said since February there had been nine attacks in the Gulf of Eden, which has emerged as one of the most dangerous waterways for seafarers amid a non-functioning government in Somalia for almost two decades.

The IMB urged ships plying the Gulf of Eden to maintain strict 24-hour anti-piracy visuals and look out for small suspicious boats coming towards them.

Choong declined further details of the tanker but said all the crew were safe.

The attack on the tanker comes just after a Spanish tuna fishing boat carrying a crew of 26 was seized on Sunday by pirates off the Somali coast.

And early this month, a luxury French cruise yacht with around 30 crew was hijacked off the coast of Somalia.

The hostages were released when a ransom, believed to be around two million dollars (1.3 million euros), was paid.

Shortly after their release French special forces arrested six of the hostage-takers as they tried to escape in a 4x4 vehicle, having gone ashore after releasing the crew members.

The waters off Nigeria and Somalia are the world's most dangerous hotspots for seafarers, with pirate attacks increasing globally in the first quarter of this year, the IMB said Wednesday.

It recorded 49 incidents worldwide in the period, compared with 41 last year.