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Somali pirates release 15 Filipino seamen

Oct. 9, 2008 - An AP story had just reported that pirates in Somalia released 15 Filipino seamen and four other crewmen of a chemical tanker hijacked nearly two months ago, but were still holding 67 other Filipino sailors.

The Philippines, one of the largest suppliers of crewmen in the international shipping industry, has been hit hard by a sharp increase in the number of Somali pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden.

Four ships with 67 Filipino sailors remained in the hands of Somali pirates, including the MV Stella Maris, a Japanese-owned bulk carrier that was seized July 20, the report said.

One Filipino sailor was killed when pirates in speed boats climbed aboard one of two Malaysian tankers last month, which have since been released.

A separate story said that a Russian warship, Neustrashimy, may use force against the pirates who seized a Ukrainian ship after it was reported that Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed had authorized Russia's military to fight pirates off Somalia's coast and on land.

"This permission allows the warship to use the whole range of the weapons on board," the report said quoting a Navy official said. Ukraine's Foreign Ministry earlier cited the Faina's owner, Tomax Team Inc., as saying there were three Russians, 17 Ukrainians and one Latvian on board the ship when it was seized.

However, Nyna Karpachyova, the Ukrainian parliament's human rights ombudsman, said that the real owner of the ship, which was carrying 33 T-72 tanks and other military equipment, was an Israeli citizen, Vadim Alperin.

Meanwhile, the 20 crew members aboard that ship expressed fear for their lives if force will be used to rescue them.

The pirates said earlier that they would kill a hostage if an attempt was made to free the hostages by force. The ship's captain Russian Vladimir Kolobkov, earlier died of a heart attack.

Lt. Nathan Christensen, a spokesman from the U.S. 5th Fleet in Bahrain, said the Navy will guard the cargo of the vessel and the welfare of the crew.

However, the LA Times online edition carries today a report that despite the presence of the six American warships, there have been four failed pirate attacks in the last 24 hours off the Somali coast. Cmdr. Jane Campbell, with the 5th Fleet in Bahrain, said three attacks were averted because the vessels escaped at high speed. Another attack was foiled because the pirates were badly prepared: The ladder they had brought to climb onto the ship was too short.

It is said that pirates are increasingly active in the waters off Somalia, which has no effective government and no navy to police its coastline. The International Maritime Bureau said more than 30 incidents of piracy were registered in the region in 2007. More than 30 attacks have been committed so far this year off the coast of the East African nation.

On April 11 helicopter-borne French troops captured half six of the pirates after the 30-strong crew of a luxury French yacht they seized earlier were freed after the yacht owner paid a ransom. France sent a warship and special forces to the region after the pirates seized the three-master in the Gulf of Aden days earlier and troops were standing by as negotiations to free the hostages took place.

France's Foreign Ministry said 22 of the crew were French while the Philippine Foreign Ministry said some of the crew were Filipinos and all were safe.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said in a statement earlier in the day he wanted to see a crackdown on piracy in the region and a greater involvement of the United Nations.

"The international community must mobilise for a determined fight against acts of piracy in the Gulf of Aden and off the Somali coast," he said, adding that France had already escorted humanitarian shipments headed for Somalia.

On Sept. 5, Amnesty International reported that more than 130 people – crew members of at least nine ships – are being held hostage by Somali pirates and asked for urgent action from authorities concerned. Elsewhere in that African country, Gunmen loyal to a notorious warlord were reported holding two Britons and two other Western UN workers hostage while on the other hand a German national and his Somali kidnapped over the weekend were released. Also, the BBC News reported at about that same time that a group of Somali warlords said that only logistical problems are holding up the release of four UN workers held hostage in Mogadishu.

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