Merchant ship's security team kills pirate

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The Independent Online

Private security guards aboard a merchant ship off the coast of East Africa fired on and killed a Somali raider after a group of pirates attacked their vessel, it emerged today.

A European Union Naval Force spokesman, Commander John Harbour, said the killing of the pirate is believed to be the first by a private security team.

Merchant ships travelling through pirate-infested waters in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean have increasingly begun putting armed security onboard to thwart attacks.

An EU Naval Force frigate was dispatched to the scene yesterday and launched a helicopter that located the pirates. Seven were found, including one who had died from small-calibre gunshot wounds. The six remaining pirates were taken into custody.

The pirate's death comes amid fears that increasingly aggressive raiders and the growing use of armed private security contractors onboard vessels could fuel increased violence on the high seas.

The handling of the case may have legal implications beyond the individuals involved in Tuesday's shooting.

The guards were onboard the MV Almezaan when a pirate group approached it twice, said Cmdr Harbour. During the second approach on the Panamanian-flagged cargo ship, which is United Arab Emirates-owned, there was an exchange of fire between the guards and the pirates.

Crews are becoming increasingly adept at repelling attacks by pirates in the dangerous waters of the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden. But pirates are becoming more aggressive in response, shooting bullets and rocket-propelled grenades at ships to try to intimidate captains into stopping.

Several organisations, including the International Maritime Bureau, have expressed fears that the use of armed security contractors could encourage pirates to be more violent when taking a ship. Sailors have been hurt or killed before but this generally happens by accident or through poor health. There has only been one known murder of a hostage despite dozens of pirate hijackings.

International navies have killed about a dozen pirates over the past year, said Cmdr Harbour. Hundreds more are believed to have died at sea, either by drowning or through dehydration when their water and fuel runs out, said Alan Cole, who heads the UN Office on Drugs and Crime's anti-piracy initiative.

Pirate attacks have not declined despite patrols by dozens of warships off the Somali coast. The amount of ocean to patrol is too vast to protect every ship and pirates have responded to the increased naval presence by moving attacks further out to sea.