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Pirates Seize European-Owned Tankers, Defy International Patrols

The past two days have seen pirates hijack two European-owned chemical tankers off the coast of Somalia in the highest-profile captures since international navies began patrolling the region's sea lanes.

Pirates as they are transported to the German frigate Rheinland-Pfalz after being detained by the German navy ship in the Gulf of Aden

Pirate gangs appear to be undeterred by patrol ships

Two European-owned tankers were hijacked off the Somali coast within 24 hours of one another, the EU's anti-piracy naval mission confirmed Thursday.

A Norwegian chemical tanker was seized some 720 kilometers off the coast of Somalia on Thursday, March 26, by pirates armed with machine guns.

The European Union's military spokesman said the 23,000-ton Bow Asir, which is registered in the Bahamas, was captured on its way to the Persian Gulf.

Salhus Shipping, which owns the tanker, said in a statement that the crew numbered 27 members of different nationalities and that they had contacted the company after 16 to 18 pirates came aboard with automatic weapons.

"We have no reports of any injuries," said company director Per Hansen. "We are doing our utmost to ensure the safety of the crew, and have established communication lines with naval forces, insurance companies, flag state and charterer."

Separate incident

The attack came less than 24 hours after a smaller Greek-owned vessel was seized in the same area.

The 9,000-ton Panamanian-flagged M.V. Nipayia, with 19 crew members, was hijacked 720 kilometers off Somalia on Wednesday afternoon.

A Greek merchant marine ministry spokesman said the chemical tanker's Russian captain and 18 Filipino crew members were in good health and that the boat's owner, Lotus Shipping, had begun negotiations with the pirates.

A more active role

Shipping routes off the coasts of Eastern and Western Africa have become increasingly dangerous in recent months, especially in the Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Guinea, off the coast of Cameroon and Nigeria.

Dozens of ships seized by pirates have been released only after owners paid tens of millions of dollars in ransom.

The latest attacks occurred even though more than 20 warships from the EU, NATO, China and Russia patrol the area around the Horn of Africa.

German marines in a boat off the Somali coast

Should the European Union play a more active role in cracking down on piracy?

The EU launched its first-ever naval operation in December with six warships and three surveillance planes in the region.

But patrolling over a million square miles of ocean is a challenging task, and their presence seems to be little deterrent.

Ransom-hunting Somali pirates attacked more than 130 merchant ships in the region last year, an increase of more than 200 percent on 2007, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

In the wake of the incidents, Greece, which is home to the biggest commercial fleet in the world, called on the EU "to play a more active role" in cracking down on piracy.

Merchant Marine Minister Anastasis Papaligouras said the EU should "expand the rules of engagement and the area patrolled by the European naval force."

He also called on shipping companies "to inform with total accuracy and in good time the competent services" about the movements of boats.

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