Somali pirates seize Greek tanker near Seychelles

ATHENS Mon Nov 30, 2009 2:55pm EST

Greek-flagged Maran Centaurus oil tanker is pictured in this undated handout photo. Somali pirates have seized the Maran Centaurus near the Seychelles, more than 700 miles off the coast of Somalia, Greece's coastguard said on November 30, 2009. REUTERS/Maran Tankers Management/Handout

Greek-flagged Maran Centaurus oil tanker is pictured in this undated handout photo. Somali pirates have seized the Maran Centaurus near the Seychelles, more than 700 miles off the coast of Somalia, Greece's coastguard said on November 30, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Maran Tankers Management/Handout

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ATHENS (Reuters) - Somali pirates have seized a Greek-flagged oil tanker near the Seychelles, more than 700 miles off the coast of Somalia, Greece's coastguard said on Monday.

The 300,294-dwt Maran Centaurus was sailing from Kuwait to the Gulf of Mexico with a crew of 28 when it was seized early on Sunday.

"About nine armed pirates attacked the tanker and seized it, 700 miles off the Somali coast, near the Seychelles," said a coastguard official who requested anonymity.

The official said there were nine Greeks, two Ukrainians, one Romanian and 16 Filipinos on board the tanker.

Maran Tankers Management, the Greek managing company, said the ship was now heading toward the Somali coast. "We only know that the crew is well," a company official who did not want to be identified told Reuters.

A Greek navy frigate, taking part in the EU naval operation against piracy in the region, was shadowing the tanker, the Greek Defense Ministry said.

Heavily armed gangs from Somalia have made tens of millions of dollars in ransoms by seizing ships using the strategic shipping lanes that link Europe to Asia.

Somali pirates warned on Monday they would kill the crew of a Chinese bulk carrier if China's navy attempted to wrest control of the vessel from them.

In a statement read to Reuters in Mogadishu over the phone, one of the pirates holding the 25 crew members of the coal ship De Xin Hai, seized in mid-October, said they had heard the Chinese navy was planning a rescue mission.

"We are telling them not to gamble with the lives of the Chinese teenagers in our hands. Honestly, we will kill if we are attacked," pirate Nur said, reading the statement from on board the ship.

In New York, the U.N. Security Council extended by a year on Monday its authorization for countries to use military force against pirates off Somalia. Anti-piracy operations have been conducted by the European Union, NATO and individual states.

The council resolution also lamented legal weaknesses that hindered the prosecution of suspected pirates after their capture and have sometimes led to their release.

It urged countries fighting piracy to carry on their naval vessels law enforcement officials known as "shipriders" from countries willing to take custody of pirates, in order to assist their prosecution.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said the importance of the resolution "was underscored yet again today by the brazen hijack" of the Maran Centaurus.

(Reporting by Renee Maltezou in Athens, Abdi Guled in Mogadishu and Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations; editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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