Cruise ship carrying Western tourists attacked by pirates off Somalian coast
NAIROBI, Kenya – Pirates armed with grenade launchers and machine guns tried to hijack a luxury cruise liner off the east African coast Saturday, but the ship outran them, officials said.Two boats full of pirates approached the Seabourn Spirit about 100 miles off the Somali coast and opened fire while the heavily armed bandits tried to get onboard, said Bruce Good, spokesman for the Miami-based Seabourn Cruise Line, a subsidiary of Carnival Corp.The ship escaped by shifting to high speed and changing course.”These are very well-organized pirates,” said Andrew Mwangura, head of the Kenyan chapter of the Seafarers Assistance Program. “Somalia’s coastline is the most dangerous place in the region in terms of maritime security.”The attackers never got close enough to board the Spirit, but one member of the 161-person crew was injured by shrapnel, cruise line president Deborah Natansohn said.The vessel’s 151 passengers, mostly Americans with some Australians and Europeans, were gathered in a lounge for their safety, Good said. None were injured.”Our suspicion at this time is that the motive was theft,” Good said, adding that the crew had been trained for “various scenarios, including people trying to get on the ship that you don’t want on the ship.”The British news agency Press Association said passengers awoke to the sound of gunfire as two 25-foot inflatable boats approached the liner.Edith Laird of Seattle, who was traveling with her daughter and a friend, told the British Broadcasting Corp. in an e-mail that her daughter saw the pirates out the window.”There were at least three rocket-propelled grenades that hit the ship, one in a state room,” Laird wrote. “We had no idea that this ship could move as fast as it did and (the captain) did his best to run down the pirates.”The Spirit was bound for Mombasa, Kenya, at the end of a 16-day voyage from Alexandria, Egypt. It was expected to reach the Seychelles on Monday, and then continue on its previous schedule to Singapore, company officials said.The 440-foot-long, 10,000-ton cruise ship, which is registered in the Bahamas, sustained minor damage, Good said. The liner, which had its maiden voyage in 1989, can accommodate 208 guests.”They took some fire, but it’s safe to sail,” he said.There has been a steep rise in piracy this year along Somalia’s nearly 2,000-mile coastline, with 15 violent incidents reported between March and August, compared with just two for all of 2004, according to the International Maritime Bureau, a division of the International Chamber of Commerce that tracks trends in piracy.In June, a U.N.-chartered ship carrying 935 tons of rice for Somali victims of the Asian tsunami was hijacked by pirates, who held crew members hostage for three months before releasing them.Somalia has had no effective central government since opposition leaders ousted dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. The leaders then turned on each other, transforming this nation of 7 million into a patchwork of battling fiefdoms ruled by heavily armed militias.—Associated Press reporter Jennifer Kay in Miami contributed to this report.