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Piracy Fears Force Evacuation of German Cruise Ship

It's (almost) all hands off deck, as a German vacation company decides sailing through the Gulf of Aden is too risky. And many are questioning why luxury liners are in dangerous waters in the first place.

The MS Columbus is the Suez Canal

The Columbus will now try to survive the Gulf of Aden -- sans passengers

The Hapag-Lloyd cruise companies announced on Tuesday, December 9 that the 246 passengers and most of the crew aboard the MS Columbus would disembark and be flown on Wednesday via chartered plane to Dubai.

The Columbus is on a round-the-world cruise and will pick up passengers in Sallalah, Oman after sailing through the Gulf of Aden with only a skeleton crew on board.

Hapag-Lloyd said the decision was unavoidable.

"The reason for this precautionary measure is the political situation in the Gulf of Aden," the company said in its official statement. "Against the backdrop of the German Foreign Ministry's travel advisory for the region, Hapag Lloyd Cruises…is not allowing any ships with passengers on board to sail through the Gulf of Aden."

The company said that it had asked the German Navy for an armed escort but that its request had been denied.

The passengers will spend three days in Dubai before continuing their journey.

Brussels to the Rescue

A German navy frigate leaves harbor in Africa

Navy forces deployed to fight terrorism are now having to protect commercial vessels

Tuesday also saw the official start of the European Union's "Operation Atalanta," which will send warships from the bloc's member states to the Horn of Africa to protect ships from piracy.

Germany's governing cabinet is expected to request permission to participate in the mission on Wednesday, with the German parliament scheduled to debate the deployment next week.

Last week, the German Navy said it had foiled an attempted pirate attack on the cruise ship MS Astor in the Gulf of Aden, after firing warning shots at the pirates' vessel.

Instances of piracy have increased dramatically in the Gulf of Aden of the coast of Somalia in recent weeks. Pirates currently hold around a dozen ships, including Saudi Arabian oil supertanker, under their control.

Operation Atalanta is the first time the EU has taken joint naval action.

Pensioner Problem?

Eight suspected Somali pirates in law courts in Mombasa, Kenya

8 suspected Somali pirates were arraigned in Kenya in November

Public opinion in Germany is divided as to whether the German Navy is doing enough, or indeed should be doing anything at all, to protect cruise ships in this region.

Some bloggers have mocked last week's anti-piracy activities.

"Warning shots…that probably so impressed the pirates that they'll never do it again," wrote one user on the web site of the German newspaper Die Welt. "The right thing to do would have been to sink their ship, but this country will never be able to bring itself to do that."

Other users said that state funds should not be used to protect people on luxury vacations.

"The tax payer is financing military escorts for decadent, cruise-ship pensioners," complained another Welt blogger. "There are calmer seas. Why must Grandma and Grandpa be shipped around through pirate waters?"

Readers of other newspapers concurred.

"Commercial vessels should be protected because they supply our country," wrote one user of the on-line edition of the Sueddeutsche Zeitung. "But someone has to show me first that cruise ships are of any use of at all."

The German Navy's presence on the Horn of Africa was originally intended to fight terrorism. But it says it has also taken action against seven suspected pirate vessels this year.

On Monday, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said that warships used as part of Operation Atalanta would be allowed to shoot at pirates.

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