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Russian, British ships repel Somali pirate attack

Thursday, November 13, 2008

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- Russian and British forces repelled a pirate attack on a cargo ship in the first action by a Russian warship sent to fight hijackings off Somalia, the two nations said Wednesday.

Russian Navy spokesman Capt. Igor Dygalo said the Russian missile frigate Neustrashimy and the British frigate Cumberland each sent up a helicopter and foiled pirates trying to take over the Danish vessel.

"The pirates tried to hit the ship with automatic weapons fire and made several attempts to seize it," Dygalo said on state-run Vesti-24 television.

He did not say whether the Russians or British opened fire.

The British Ministry of Defense said the incident occurred Tuesday and one of its warships had boarded a foreign-flagged dhow -- a traditional wooden vessel -- suspected of piracy.

Russia sent the Neustrashimy, or Intrepid, to protect Russian ships and crew off Somalia's coast after a Ukrainian freighter with three Russians aboard was hijacked in September.

Attacks have continued virtually unabated off Somalia, which has had no functioning government since 1991.

Turkish maritime officials said pirates had commandeered the Karagol, a Turkish tanker bound for India, on Wednesday, 16 miles off the coast of Yemen. It was carrying 4,500 tons of chemicals and 14 Turkish personnel.

The total number of naval attacks off Somalia stood at 83 before the Karagol was seized, with 33 ships hijacked and 12 still in pirates' hands, most notably the Ukrainian freighter.

The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution in June allowing ships of foreign nations that cooperate with the Somali government to enter their territorial waters "for the purpose of repressing acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea." About 20,000 ships sail through the Gulf of Aden each year, compared to 13,000 that pass through the Panama Canal and 50,000 that traverse the Straits of Malacca -- formerly the most pirate-infested waterway in the world.

The Indian navy said Tuesday its marine commandos operating from a warship prevented pirates from hijacking an Indian merchant vessel in the Gulf of Aden. The move was a significant step for the South Asian giant, which is determined to translate its growing economic strength into global military and political clout.

A NATO flotilla of seven vessels is also patrolling the Gulf of Aden to help the U.S. 5th Fleet in anti-piracy patrols and to escort cargo vessels. The 5th Fleet said it has repelled about two dozen pirate attacks since Aug 22 of this year. NATO officials said alliance warships have not fended off any attacks on the merchant ships they are protecting.

The European Union has approved sending four to six ships backed by aircraft to replace the NATO force in December. The Greek government approved a plan Wednesday to contribute a frigate and hold the flotilla's rotating command.

In addition, a multinational force of warships from Denmark, the United States, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Britain, Pakistan and Canada has carved out a narrow protected shipping corridor off the coast of Somalia.

It was not immediately clear exactly where the Russian-British action took place Tuesday.

The Russian navy said that the Neustrashimy was escorting the CEC Commander, whose crew includes 15 Russians, after an official request from its operator following pirate attacks that claimed another of the company's ships.

Roger Middleton, an expert on East Africa at the Chatham House think tank in London, said that the Russians have been working with the European naval military operation even as Russia's relationship with Europe remains fraught.

"It's certainly what should be happening," Middleton said. "It's excellent that they're able to cooperate in this arena."


Associated Press writer Slobodan Lekic in Brussels, Hadeel al-Shalchi in Cairo, Raphael Satter in London and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey contributed to this report. Gutterman reported from Moscow.


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