FoxNews.com wrote:NAIROBI, Kenya
— The pirates who attacked a luxury cruise liner off Somalia's coast were likely to have been from the same group that hijacked a U.N.-chartered vessel in June and held its crew and food aid hostage for 100 days, a maritime official said Sunday.
Two boats full of pirates approached the Seabourn Spirit (search) about 100 miles off the Somali coast Saturday and fired rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles while the heavily armed bandits tried to get onboard.
The ship escaped by shifting to high speed and changing course. Its passengers, mostly Americans with some Australians and Europeans, were gathered in a lounge for safety, and nobody was injured, said Bruce Good, spokesman for the Miami-based Seabourn Cruise Line, a subsidiary of Carnival Corp.
Andrew Mwangura, head of the Kenyan chapter of the Seafarers Assistance Program (search), said the location of the attack would indicate the pirates were probably from a group that seized a U.N.-chartered ship on a humanitarian mission on June 27.
That group — led by Mohamed Abdi Hassan (search) and a warlord nicknamed Dhagweyne — is one of three well-organized bands operating along Somalia's 1,880-mile coastline, the longest in Africa. Several other bands are in the country, Mwangura and U.N. officials said.
Mwangura said the attack on the luxury cruise liner shows that pirates from anarchic Somalia are becoming bolder and more ambitious in their efforts to hijack ships for ransom and loot.
Somali pirates are trained fighters with maritime knowledge. They identify their targets by listening to the international radio channel used by ships at sea, Mwangura said.
"Sometimes they trick the mariners by pretending that they have a problem and they should come to assist them — they send bogus distress signals," Mwangura said. "They are getting more powerful, more vicious and bolder day by day."
The Semlow was the first U.N.-chartered ship to be seized while on a humanitarian mission to Somalia and the 10 crew members were held for more than three months while the pirates tried to get the United Nations to pay ransom — which it refused to do.
The hijackers agreed to let the ship go after it ran out of fuel amid negotiations by clan elders.
Somalia has had no effective central government since opposition leaders ousted dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. The leaders then turned on each other, transforming the nation of 7 million into a patchwork of battling fiefdoms ruled by heavily armed militias.
Somalia lies along key shipping lanes linking the Mediterranean with the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean and there has been a sharp rise in piracy this year along its coastline, with 25 attacks reported since March 15, according to the International Maritime Bureau, a division of the International Chamber of Commerce that tracks trends in piracy. In 2004, the organization reported just two attacks off the Horn of Africa.
U.S. and NATO warships patrol the region to protect vessels in deeper waters further out, but they are not permitted in Somalia's territorial waters.
Saturday's attackers never got close enough to board the cruise ship, but one member of the 161-person crew was injured by shrapnel, the cruise line said.
"Our suspicion at this time is that the motive was theft," Good said, adding that the crew had been trained for "various scenarios, including people trying to get on the ship that you don't want on the ship."
Passengers awoke to the sound of gunfire as two 25-foot inflatable boats approached the liner, the British news agency Press Association reported.
Mark Rogers, one of the passengers aboard the Seabourn Spirit, described the experience as frightening but said the crew responded very well. "It was absolutely amazing how little panic there was," he told AP Radio.
The Spirit was bound for Mombasa, Kenya, at the end of a 16-day voyage from Alexandria, Egypt. It was expected to reach the Seychelles on Monday, then continue on its previous schedule to Singapore, company officials said.
The 440-foot-long, 10,000-ton cruise ship, which is registered in the Bahamas, sustained minor damage, Good said. The liner, which had its maiden voyage in 1989, can accommodate 208 guests.