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Shipowners call for blockade to fight piracy

November 25, 2008|Associated Press

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA — Shipping officials from around the world called Monday for a military blockade along Somalia's coast to intercept pirate vessels heading out to sea.

But NATO, which has four warships off the coast of Somalia, rejected the idea.

Peter Swift of the International Assn. of Independent Tanker Owners said stronger naval action and aerial support were necessary to battle rampant piracy in the Gulf of Aden near Somalia.

About 20 tankers sail through the sea lane daily. But many owners are considering a lengthy detour around southern Africa to avoid pirates, which will delay delivery and push costs up by 30%, he said.

The association, whose members own 2,900 tankers, or 75% of the world's fleet, opposes calls to arm merchant ships because it could escalate the violence and put crews at greater risk, he said.

"The other option is perhaps putting a blockade around Somalia and introducing the idea of intercepting vessels leaving Somalia rather than to try to protect the whole of the Gulf of Aden," Swift said.

The gulf connects to the Red Sea, which is linked to the Mediterranean by the Suez Canal. The route is thousands of miles and many days shorter than traveling around Africa's Cape of Good Hope.

Somali pirates have become increasingly brazen, seizing eight vessels in the last two weeks, including a huge Saudi supertanker with $100 million worth of crude oil.

On Monday, Yemen's Interior Ministry said Somali pirates had hijacked a Yemeni cargo ship in the Arabian Sea. It said communication with the vessel was lost Nov. 18 after it had been out to sea for a week.

It was not immediately clear what cargo the Adina had. The U.S. 5th Fleet in Bahrain could not confirm the hijacking.

A blockade along Somalia's nearly 1,900-mile coastline would be difficult.

"But some intervention there may be effective," Swift told reporters at a shipping conference in Malaysia.

NATO said Monday that its mandate is solely to escort aid ships and conduct patrols.

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