Maltese-registered vessel captured by pirates

The fate of a Maltese-registered vessel was unknown last night after it was captured by Somali pirates in the eastern part of the Gulf of Aden yesterday.

The 31,000-tonne MV Patriot was bound for Hodeidah in Yemen with a cargo of wheat when it was attacked and seized by pirates.

A Kenyan maritime official told Reuters that the ship's crew, consisting of a Polish captain, a Ukrainian chief engineer and 15 Filipinos, are unharmed.

The MV Patriot is owned by Patriot Schiffahrts and managed by Blumenthal JMK of Hamburg, Germany. The Malta Maritime Authority said it had no information about the crew on board.

The authority said it was in contact with the managers of the vessel and was liaising with various international authorities including the Dubai co-ordination centre.

This is the second pirate attack on a Maltese-flagged vessel in the Gulf of Aden in the past week. The MV Atlantic managed to fend off pirates last Monday after they tried to board it some 30 miles off Yemen.

NATO Lieutenant Commander Alexandre Fernandes said two speedboats approached the ship, each with six heavily-armed men. One skiff used a ladder to try to board the vessel and another shot at it with automatic weapons.

The bulk carrier escaped by increasing speed and using other unspecified anti-piracy measures.

Pirates also seized the MV Saldanha, a Greek-owned Malta-registered cargo ship with 22 crew, off the coast of Somalia in late February. The ship is still believed to be under pirate control.

Pirate attacks off the eastern African coast have escalated in the past few weeks despite the presence of a flotilla of foreign navy warships in the region.

Sea gangs are holding more than 250 hostages and have made millions of dollars through ransoms, driving up insurance costs.

Some shipping lines now opt to use a longer and more expensive route around the Cape of Good Hope to avoid capture.

A total of 111 hijackings took place in 2008, an increase of 200 per cent from the preceding year. This year there have been about 40 incidents.

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