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Somali pirates seize Belgian ship

world Updated: Apr 18, 2009 23:30 IST

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Somali pirates attacked two ships off the Horn of Africa today, capturing a Belgian dredger and its 10 crew. NATO forces intervened in the other assault, chasing the pirates down and freeing 20 fisherman on a Yemeni dhow.

The high-seas attacks underscored the dangers in waters off Somalia and east Africa despite the best efforts of an international flotilla that includes warships from the United States and the European Union.

Pirates from anarchic, clan-ruled Somalia have attacked more than 80 boats this year and hold 16 ships and over 290 crew members hostage.

In the first attack, pirates hijacked the Belgian-flagged Pompei in the Indian Ocean, a few hundred kilometers north of the Seychelles islands, said Portuguese Lt. Cmdr. Alexandre Santos Fernandes, who is traveling with the NATO fleet patrolling the region.

Belgium reported that the ship sounded two alarms early today indicating it was under attack on its way to the Seychelles. It had 10 crew: two Belgians, one Dutch, three Filipinos and four Croatians.

Hours later, pirates further north in the Gulf of Aden attacked a Marshall Islands-flagged tanker with small arms and rockets. Fernandes said that ship, the Handytankers Magic, issued a distress call shortly after dawn but escaped the pirates using "speed and maneuvers.