Pirates Hijack Tanker in Gulf of Aden

Plague of piracy spreads from realm of warlords

Somali pirates on Thursday hijacked a tanker and its crew of 12 Filipinos and one Indonesian in the Gulf of Aden, a diplomat and a U.S. official said.

Lt. Nathan Christensen, a Bahrain-based spokesman for the U.S. 5th Fleet, said the tanker Longchamp was taken earlier in the day.

A Nairobi-based diplomat also confirmed the hijacking and gave the details of the crew's nationalities. He asked that his name not be used because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

It was not immediately clear what cargo the tanker was carrying, although Lloyds Maritime Intelligence told NBC News that the Longchamp carries liquid petroleum gas.

The ship left Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in Morocco, and passed through the Suez Canal on the 21st January, Lloyds said. It then turned off it's IAS guidance system — which ships can now do through the Gulf of Aden to avoid hijackings, although it also means that at present it is not known exactly where the tanker is.

Piracy taking growing toll
Piracy has taken an increasing toll on international shipping, especially in the Gulf of Aden, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes. Pirates made an estimated $30 million hijacking ships for ransom last year, seizing more than 40 vessels off Somalia's 1,900-mile coastline.

Somali waters are now patrolled by more than a dozen warships from countries including Britain, France, Germany, Iran and the United States. China and South Korea have also ordered the dispatch of warships to protect their vessels and crews from pirates.

Christensen said the protecting warships were not involved in the incident in which the Longchamp was taken. Christensen had no other details on the vessel and its crew.

Somalia, a nation of about 8 million people, has not had a functioning government since warlords overthrew a dictator in 1991 and then turned on each other. Its lawless coastline is a haven for pirates.

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