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Pirates attack Japanese, Greek and Chinese ships

PIRATES fired rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons at Japanese, Greek and Hong Kong cargo ships off the coast of Somalia but fled after the ships took evasive maneuvers, officials said yesterday.

No one was injured in the attacks, the latest to be reported in Somalia's pirate-infested waters.

A Japanese Transport Ministry official said pirates in two small vessels approached the Jasmine Ace and fired several shots before fleeing. Bullets broke windows and hit the ceiling of the bridge.

Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur, said the attack was one of three on Sunday off southern Somalia, about 500 nautical miles from the coast.

In the other attacks, pirates in two small boats fired RPGs and machine guns at a Hong Kong container ship for 30 minutes but the vessel escaped by increasing speed and carrying out evasive maneuvers.

An hour later, the brigands fired at a Greek bulk carrier but aborted the attempt after the ship took anti-piracy measures, including evasive maneuvers, he said.

The Japanese cargo ship was attacked four hours later.

"Fortunately no one was injured and killed. It is believed to be the same pirate group and it shows they are now operating in the southern part of Somalia," Choong said.

A spokesman for Mitsui OSK Lines, which operates the Japanese ship, said the 13,000-ton ship carrying a cargo of automobiles to Kenya zigzagged away and the pirates broke off their assault.

Authorities say marauding criminals in speedboats attacked more than 100 ships off Somalia's coast last year, including high-profile hijackings with multimillion-dollar ransom demands. There were roughly 10 times as many attacks in January and February this year as there were over the same period last year.

But while Somalia's pirates are keeping up their attacks, they are finding it harder to seize vessels in recent months, according to the International Maritime Bureau.


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