A secret compartment save crew ship from pirates

US Marines rescued a German-owned ship seized by pirates in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia after hijackers vainly sought the crew which hid in a secret compartment, the US military and the shipping firm said. The pirates spent nearly 20 hours searching for the crew and even phoned the shipping company in Germany to ask where they were hidden, a spokesman for the firm said.

In a pre-dawn raid, US Marines "boarded and seized control of the Antigua-Barbuda flagged German-owned vessel M/V Magellan Star from pirates who attacked and boarded the vessel early September 8,".

No one was hurt in the operation, in which the Magellan Star's crew was freed and nine pirates arrested.

The hijack attempt began after the pirates boarded the 8,000-tonne container ship, Juergen Salamon, a spokesman for the Quadrant shipping company in the northern German city of Hamburg, told AFP.

"The crew had closed down the engines and locked themselves away in a safe room which the pirates were unable to find," he said. After searching the ship for three hours the pirates picked up the phone and called the shipping company asking about the crew's whereabouts, the spokesman said.

"They were told the crew was on holiday," he said. "They then asked how to switch the engines back on, but were told they were broken," he added.

The 11-man crew, comprising two Russians, two Poles, and seven Filipinos, spent the time hidden away in a small, cramped safe room whose entrance was not immediately obvious, the spokesman said.

The rescue operation was launched from the USS Dubuque after a Turkish frigate — part of a multinational force — responded to a distress signal from the Magellan Star which was sailing from Bilbao in Spain to Singapore.

The multinational force was set up in January 2009 to protect shipping lanes and stamp out piracy in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean. Unofficial figures show 2009 was the most prolific year yet for Somali pirates, with more than 200 attacks — including 68 successful hijackings — and ransoms believed to exceed 50 million dollars.

At least 23 foreign vessels with around 400 crew members are still held by pirates, an organisation monitoring piracy.

(c) 2010 AFP

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