4 November 2007 - Somalia's notorious coastline at the Horn of Africa has claimed Filipino seamen as victims on three vessels seized by coastal pirates and militias off the coast in what is considered the world's most dangerous sea-lanes.
The presence of a US-backed, NATO-led task force of more than thirty war ships from all over the world has done little to protect merchant seamen whose vessels, ironically, are often carrying either relief and aid to Somalia, Eritrea, and, Ethiopia.
One of the vessels seized was 'protected' by a local militia, who for some strange reason decided to seize the container ship. “The group protecting the vessel seized it. We don’t know why, we have hired them before and now they have decided to keep the vessel and cargo and crew,” a cargo firm handling a North Korean vessel laden with sugar reported.
Meanwhile, the Japanese company Dorval Kaiun K.K., the owner of the hijacked chemical tanker M.V. Golden Nori told reporters in a press statement in Tokyo, “We are working with negotiators to try and do all we can to secure the release of our crewmen on the tanker Golden Nori.”
A second ship was also seized in port and a third fought off pirates in a heavy weekend of activity that has seen the US Navy taking an active role in efforts to free the crewmen.
A us Navy destroyer sunk two pirate boasts tied up to the vessel Golden Nori , highly accurate gunnery from the destroyer sunk the two small craft even as they were tied up to the ship.
Earlier a North Korean vessel was assisted by the US Navy, an assault team presence aboard a helicopter, allowed crewmen to fight back versus pirates and helped a North Korean cargo vessel regain control of their ship and capture five pirates and kill others on to board their ship near the coast of Somalia.
“You'll always find our Navy prepared to help any ship in distress and certainly any ship that is confronting pirates," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said in Seoul. "I think we were pleased to be able to help in this regard and I hope the (North) understands that we did this out of the sense of goodwill that we have on this," a state Department press release reported.
The Philippine government notes that “There is no central government in clear control of the coastline, this is not the first time Filipinos have fallen victim to the pirates off the Somalia coast.” A DFA press release says the government has asked the company that hired the crewmen to assist efforts to seek the freedom of the crew.
Pirates often board vessels in the area, at times kidnapping crewmen, stealing anything of value and abandoning vessels. There have also been instances where terrorism has been involved - a Liberian tanker was the target of Somalia based Islamic rebels allied with al Qaeda and other extremist groups.
Ongoing campaign versus pirates is part of war vs. terrorism
U.S. and coalition forces routinely conduct maritime security operations. Navy Lieutenant Junior Grade Joseph Holstead said such operations are carried out in a manner consistent with international law "to help ensure security and safety in international waters so that all commercial shipping can operate freely while transiting the region."
In a separate incident in October, a Panamanian-flagged ship sent out a distress call in the Gulf of Aden. U.S. and coalition forces from Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Pakistan, the United Kingdom and other nations are monitoring the situation.
A public affairs spokesman with U.S. Central Command said piracy is "a serious international problem that requires an international solution." The Navy, he said, will continue to work with international organizations like the Malaysian-based International Maritime Bureau "to encourage mariners to take necessary precautions to improve their safety and security."
Sources: UN Info, Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, US CENTCOM - Pacific News Center International