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Italian cruise ship beats off pirate attack

NAIROBI (Reuters) - An Italian cruise ship used guns and a firehose to beat off an attack by pirates off the east African coast, the vessel’s captain said Sunday.

Pirates also freed a Yemeni-owned tanker, the Sea Princess II, Sunday, a Kenyan maritime official that monitors growing piracy off Somalia told Reuters.

Commander Ciro Pinto of the MSC Melody, which has a capacity of 1,500 passengers and crew, said his ship was slightly damaged by firing from the pirates.

The ship came under attack when it was 200 miles (320 km) north of the Seychelles and 600 miles (960 km) off the Somali coast. “They started firing like crazy at the ship,” he told Italian television Skytg24.

Pinto said pistols were handed out to security staff and they opened fire on the pirates when they tried to clamber up the sides of the ship.

“They tried to put up a ladder with hooks. They were climbing up, so we reacted. We started firing. When they saw us firing -- we even sprayed them with water with the firehose -- they gave up and went off,” Pinto said.

The sea gang followed the Melody for another 20 minutes, firing at it all the while, Pinto said.

“The passengers meanwhile were inside the cabin. There are no injuries. Only two people with scrapes,” the captain said. “Someone slipped, fell. Just a few light scrapes.”

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Although the ship’s action may have saved the Melody from capture, the Kenyan maritime official said it only endangered the lives of passengers.

“Having weapons on a passenger or merchant ship is dangerous. They should have used other means to shake off the pirates, like a loud acoustic device,” said Andrew Mwangura of the Mombasa-based East African Sea Farers Assistance Program.

He was referring to a device that can produce a deafening sound to deter pirates when directed towards their vessel.

“Only military ships should have weapons on board.”


Mwangura said pirates also released a Yemeni-owned tanker on Sunday. The vessel was seized on January 2 and was carrying petroleum products. It had 15 crew members, including eight Indian seamen.

“Information shows that the Sea Princess II is free. She is now underway to safe waters,” he said. “There must have been a ransom paid but we don’t know how much.”

Another ship was let free Saturday, after a $1.9 million (1.29 million pounds) ransom payment.

Buccaneers have increased raids on ships passing through the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean since February when better weather allowed them to hijack more vessels and take more hostages despite foreign navies patrolling off Somalia.

It is not the first time that pirates have tried to seize a cruise ship, but they have always been fended off.

The London-based IMB watchdog said piracy incidents nearly doubled in the first quarter of 2009 almost entirely due to Somalia. There were 18 attacks off the Somali coast in March alone.

They have made millions of dollars from seizing ships and taking crews hostage. Pirates freed a Greek ship Saturday after they received a $1.9 million ransom just hours after another ship, a German grain carrier, was grabbed in the Gulf of Aden.

Additional reporting by Antonella Ciancio in Milan; Editing by Richard Williams