Maersk set to review policies after Somali pirate attack

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It emerged on Wednesday that pirates had attacked another US-flagged cargo ship off the coast of Somalia with rockets and automatic weapons, but failed to board the craft. The ship’s owner, Liberty Maritime Corp of Lake Success, New York, said in a statement that the crew of the Liberty Sun was unharmed during the incident on Tuesday, but the vessel suffered damage.

The news came as the parent of the owner of the Maersk Alabama, the US-flagged ship whose captain was taken hostage last week by Somali pirates, looked set to keep more of its ships away from the pirate-plagued area off Somalia.

Copenhagen-based AP Moller-Maersk, one of the world’s largest shipping companies, announced a review of its policies on routes and deployment off Somalia on Tuesday as pirates seized a further two ships off the African country.

Maersk previously reviewed its policy in November, after the hijacking of a tug operated by Svitzer, its tug arm. It decided then to send its tugs and some tankers round the Cape of Good Hope rather than past Somalia. But it decided that only a handful of its container ships were vulnerable to attack.

The latest review looks set to take a more cautious view following the seizure of the Alabama, only the second container ship ever seized by Somali pirates.

The only previous container ship hijacked, the Hansa Stavanger, was seized on April 4.

Container ships, which are vital to the world’s trade in manufactured and semifinished goods, are mostly capable of high speeds and sit high enough above the sea to be difficult to board. Maersk, which operates a fleet of 543 ships, is the world’s largest container line. Ships that are smaller, slow and sit low in the water – particularly small bulk carriers and tankers carrying oil products and chemicals – have generally been most vulnerable to pirates.

Maersk said it was investigating thoroughly the events surrounding the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama, owned by a US subsidiary.

Richard Phillips, the vessel’s captain, was kidnapped after the crew overpowered the pirates, and held for four days aboard a lifeboat. On Sunday US navy snipers shot all three pirates holding him and freed him.

“Based on this investigation, the group will review its policies and procedures for sailing off the coast of Somalia and take appropriate action,” the company said.

The review looks all but certain to conclude that smaller, slower container ships such as the Maersk Alabama should be kept away from Somalia or offered additional protection.

The MV Irene, a Greek-owned bulk carrier, was attacked early on Tuesday in the Gulf of Aden, to the north of Somalia, where most pirate attacks took place last year.

The Irene was unusually attacked at night – which Cyrus Mody, a manager at the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) in London, said was a change of tactics. A general cargo ship, the MV Seahorse, was seized in the Indian Ocean.

There have been 18 seizures of ships this year, according to the IMB, with eight in the Indian Ocean and the others in the Gulf of Aden.

Financial Times

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