Somali pirates fail to hijack US cruise liner

Pirates near Somalia chased and shot at a US cruise liner with more than 1,000 people on board but failed to hijack the vessel, a maritime official said today.

The liner, carrying 656 international passengers and 399 crew members, was sailing in the Gulf of Aden when it encountered six pirates in two speedboats, said Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting centre in Kuala Lumpur.

The pirates fired at the passenger liner, but the larger boat was faster than the pirates' vessels, Mr Choong said.

"It is very fortunate that the liner managed to escape," he said, urging all ships to remain vigilant in the area.

The ship's owner, Oceania Cruises, identified the ship as the M/S Nautica.

In a statement on its website, the company said pirates fired eight rifle shots at the liner as it sailed along a maritime corridor patrolled by an international naval coalition, but that the ship's captain increased speed and managed to outrun the skiffs. All passengers and crew are safe and there was no damage to the vessel, it said.

According to the website, the Nautica was on a 32-day cruise from Rome to Singapore, with stops at ports in Italy, Egypt, Oman, Dubai, India, Malaysia and Thailand. Based on that schedule, the liner was headed from Egypt to Oman when it was attacked.

There have been 100 attacks in Somali waters this year. Forty ships have been hijacked, and 14 remain in the hands of pirates along with more than 250 crew members, Mr Choong said.

International warships are patrolling the area and have created a special security corridor under a US-led initiative, but the attacks have not abated. Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991.