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Pirates failagain, and food ship released

SOMALI pirates attacked a Maltese flagged-ship with rocket-propelled grenades before dawn yesterday, but the ship escaped unharmed, a NATO spokesman said.

And in a rare case of good news, Somali pirates released a Lebanese-owned cargo ship after only a few days after they found out it was headed to pick up food aid for hungry Somalis.

Yesterday's attack on the MV Atlantica took place 48 kilometers off the coast of Yemen in the Gulf of Aden, said a spokesman for the NATO alliance.

Two boats with about six pirates each attacked the ship and one skiff attempted to board it. The ship took evasive maneuvers and escaped without damage or injury to its crew, the spokesman said.

Meanwhile, United Nations World Food Program spokesman Peter Smerdon said pirates released the Lebanese-owned MV Sea Horse on Friday. He had no more details and it was not known if a ransom was paid.

The Togo-flagged ship was hijacked on April 14 with 19 crew on board as it headed to Mumbai, India, to pick up 7,300 tons of food destined for Somalia.

Somali clan elder Abdisalan Khalif Ahmed, speaking from the central Somali town of Harardhere, said gunmen released the ship after they found out it was to pick up food for their own countrymen.

Some pirates have agreed not to target ships carrying relief supplies, but pirate gangs are controlled by rival clans and do not operate in concert.

Other freighters carrying food aid have also been attacked recently, including the United States-flagged Maersk Alabama, whose American captain, Richard Phillips, was held hostage for five days until he was freed April 12 by US Navy snipers.

The WFP is feeding 3.5 million Somalis this year, about half the country's people. That requires 43,000 tons of food every month, some 90 percent of which is sent by sea.

Flying in food aid is too expensive, and roads in the lawless country are plagued by bandits.

Somali pirates still hold at least 17 other ships and around 300 crew.

Pirate attacks have increased in recent weeks, with gunmen from Somalia searching for targets further out to sea as ships try to avoid the anarchic nation.

The Somali government has called for the death penalty for pirates. "Becoming a pirate is a crime, and Islam says if you become a pirate you should definitely be killed because you are killing the people," said Somalia's deputy prime minister, Abdurrahman Haji Adam.

But the announcement is unlikely to have much effect. The government barely controls a few pockets of territory in Mogadishu, the capital, and is battling an insurgency.


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