Private Guards Kill Somali Pirate

In what was said to be the first incident of its kind, private security guards aboard a merchant ship plying the pirate-infested waters off Somalia shot dead one of several attackers trying to seize the vessel, the European Naval Force in the area said on Wednesday.

The death comes amid fears that increasingly aggressive pirates and the growing use of armed private security contractors onboard vessels could fuel increased violence on the high seas.The death of the pirate could escalate the struggle between pirates and merchant shipping in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, where cargo ships increasingly carry private security operatives to repel assailants.

The incident happened early on March,24 when a Panamanian-flagged cargo ship heading for Mogadishu, the Almezaan, came under attack from pirates using high-speed skiffs controlled by a mother ship, the British-based Naval Force said in a statement on its Web site.

Twice, the pirate attacked the vessel and twice they were repulsed as a EU Naval Force Spanish frigate, the Navarra, sped toward the scene, Cmdr. John Harbour, of Britain’s Royal Navy, the spokesman for the Naval Force, said in a telephone interview.

“Normally the private security firms fire warning shots” to repel pirates, he said. But on this occasion, “the pirates came for a second time firing their guns and the security team fired back,” he said. Asked if the killing was the first by a private security team, he said: “I believe that is the case.”

A helicopter from the Navarra located the pirates and fired warning shots while a team from the Spanish frigate went aboard the pirate boat. In one pirate skiff, which was riddled with bullets, the boarding party found three live pirates and the body of a fourth who had been hit by small arms fire, Commander Harbour said.

Six pirates were arrested and their ships were sunk. The spokesman said he did not know the nationality of the private security team members.

The European Naval Force, which is supported by the United Nations, comprises units from Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden under the command of British Rear Adm. Peter Hudson.

Crews are becoming increasingly adept at repelling attacks by pirates in the dangerous waters of the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden. But pirates are becoming more aggressive in response, shooting bullets and rocket-propelled grenades at ships to try to intimidate captains into stopping.

Several organizations, including the International Maritime Bureau, have expressed fears that the use of armed security contractors could encourage pirates to be more violent when taking a ship. Sailors have been hurt or killed before but this generally happens by accident or through poor health. There has only been one known execution of a hostage despite dozens of pirate hijackings.

International navies have killed about a dozen pirates over the past year, said Harbour. Hundreds more are believed to have died at sea, either by drowning or through dehydration when their water and fuel runs out, said Alan Cole, who heads the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime’s anti-piracy initiative.

Pirate attacks have not declined despite patrols by dozens of warships off the Somali coast. The amount of ocean to patrol is too vast to protect every ship and pirates have responded to the increased naval presence by moving attacks farther out to sea.

Experts say piracy is just one symptom of the general collapse of law and order in the failed state of Somalia, which has not had a functioning government in 19 years. They say attacks on shipping will continue as long as there is no central government capable of taking on the well-armed and well-paid pirate gangs.

From NY Times (ALAN COWELL) and Associated Press

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