Somali pirates in record attack

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The Independent Online

Somali pirates yesterday attacked an oil tanker and fired automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades farther out at sea than any previous assault, suggesting that pirate capabilities are growing as they increase activity off East Africa.

Pirates in two skiffs fired at the Hong Kong-flagged BW Lion about 1,000 miles east of the Somali coast, the European Union Naval Force said.

The tanker's captain increased speed and took evasive maneuvers, avoiding the attack, the force said. No casualties were reported. The naval force sent a plane from the Seychelles islands to investigate.

Pirates have launched increasingly bold attacks against vessels in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden in hopes of capturing a ship and crew and collecting ransom. They currently hold more than 190 hostages, including British couple Paul and Rachel Chandler, seized from their personal yacht late last month.

The high-seas hijackings have increased after the recent end of the monsoon season despite an international armada of warships deployed by the United States, the European Union, NATO, Japan, South Korea and China to patrol the region. US drones launched from nearby Seychelles are also patrolling for pirates.

Spain yesterday raised the possibility of sending two captured Somali pirates back home after trying them in Madrid — as a way to win the release of a Spanish trawler held by fellow brigands off the Horn of Africa.