Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Contact has been lost with 23 Burmese crewmen of Liberian-flagged container ship MSC Panama, hijacked by Somali pirates on Friday, according to the Myanmar Overseas Seafarers’ Association yesterday.
“The [shipping management] company can’t contact the Somali pirates. We are waiting for the report of the Rangoon branch office of the company,” Htay Aung, a central executive committee member of association, said.
Two armed boats with a total of five pirates on board hijacked the MSC Panama as it was en route from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Beira in Mozambique, using rocket-propelled grenades during the attack that occurred 80 nautical miles (92 miles) east of the Tanzanian-Mozambican border, EU Naval Force Somalia, the European Union’s anti-piracy taskforce, reported on its website.
The container ship of 26,288 deadweight tonnage (which includes the weight of the crew, passengers, cargo, fuel, ballast, drinking water and stores) was operated by Ship Management Services in Coral Gables, Florida, in the United States, fronting for registered owner, the Eurus Berlin company, based in New York, the Ecoterra piracy website reported.
Similarly, early this year, Norwegian vessel UBT Ocean, crewed by 21 Burmese, was hijacked by pirates off Somalia. The vessel was released in July after the pirates received US$3.5 million, a company source said.
“Now, seamen are afraid to go into that area,” Htay Aung said.
The Gulf of Aden, between Somalia and Yemen, with the Suez Canal, form the main shipping gateway between the East and West.
Operating in the Gulf and an expanding area of the Indian Ocean, Somali pirates hold more than 500 crew members from more than 20 ships. Hostages and ships have been held for months and released only for multi-million-dollar ransoms, according to the Associated Press.
“Somalia has been mired in anarchy since 1991, enabling piracy to thrive off its Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden coasts. A multinational force patrols the seas, but the vast distances and pirates’ ability to attack further offshore mean hijackings have continued,” AP said yesterday.
This extreme southerly attack in the Somali Basin was a further example of the constantly expanding area of Somali pirate activity, EU Navfor said.