x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Ship hijacked a day after two pirates killed by British navy

Two Somali pirates are killed after a shoot-out with the British navy as tensions increase.

Two Somali pirates were killed this week after a shoot-out with the British navy as tensions increase in the waters off the Horn of Africa country. Details of the incident were revealed as Islamist fighters imposed sharia law yesterday on Merka, a town 90km south of Mogadishu, giving them their closest foothold yet to the capital.

The British defence ministry said in a statement on Wednesday the HMS Cumberland, which was on a Nato-led patrolling mission in the area, used "non-forcible methods" to stop a dhow that had been identified as trying to hijack a Danish vessel. The British ship launched boats to encircle the dhow, which were then "fired at from the dhow and the crews returned fire in self defence". "Two foreign nationals, believed to be Somali, were shot and killed in self-defence," the statement added.

Pirates toting automatic machine guns and grenade launchers capitalised on the instability in the area, seizing several vessels off Somalia's ungoverned coastline. On Wednesday, the Anatolia news agency reported the hijacking of a Turkish-flagged tanker with a crew of 14, the latest incident in the area. Since Sept 27 several US warships have been engaged in a standoff involving Somali pirates who hijacked the MV Faina, a Ukrainian cargo ship loaded with 33 Russian-designed T-72 tanks and grenade launchers and ammunition.

"We still have several ships down there keeping an eye on the situation," said Lt Nate Christensen, a navy spokesman for the US 5th Fleet based in Bahrain. "They're monitoring the situation, making sure that none of the cargo is offloaded." The Neustrashimy, a Russian warship, was said to have been sailing to help relieve the Faina shortly after the standoff began. But the Russian vessel is nowhere to be found, said Lt Christensen. "All we know is that they left their home port," he said. "There are reports that it's near the coast of Aden."

Piracy has become so rampant off the coast of Somalia that the United States and its Nato allies have introduced a 1,000km sea corridor to help vessels pass safely through the volatile waters. Meanwhile, the Shebab fighters gained control of the city of Merka and its port yesterday and were reportedly welcomed by some residents who had grown weary of nearly two decades of political volatility, famine and war.

"We need peace and stability. Let them impose strict rules," Mohammed Abdullah, a resident, told Agence France-Presse. Dire humanitarian circumstances in the lawless East African nation have sparked an exodus of refugees into neighbouring countries. The UN on Wednesday called for Kenya to allocate more land to handle the influx of Somali refugees, an estimated 56,000 of whom have come into the country this year. The UN estimates 224,000 refugees reside in Kenya's three camps and that space is running short.

"We may soon face a humanitarian crisis if we continue depending on the three existing camps to accommodate the new arrivals," said Liz Ahua, a representative for UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. hnaylor@thenational.ae