15 Oct 2008

Somalis retake ship from pirates

7:09 am on 15 October 2008

Security forces in northern Somalia have stormed a Panamanian-registered cargo ship that was seized by pirates last week, rescuing the crew unharmed.

Officials in the semi-autonomous Puntland region said local forces boarded the Awail, after a gunfight in which two soldiers were wounded. It was their second attempt to retake the ship - the first did not succeed.

Ten gunmen on board surrendered after running out of ammunition.

According to regional officials, none of the crew - nine Syrians and two Somalis - were injured.

Heavily armed pirates seized control of the Awail last Thursday. It was carrying cement from Oman to Bossasso, the capital of the Puntland region.

Meanwhile, a Ukrainian vessel carrying 33 tanks is still being held by pirates demanding a $20m ransom.

Earlier, the pirates said they would blow up the MV Faina unless the money was paid by Monday night.

A pirate spokesman later said the deadline may be extended following requests from the ship's owner and other officials.

Pirate region

The BBC reports many pirate gangs are based in the Puntland town of Eyl.

More than 30 ships have been seized this year in busy shipping lanes near the Somali coast and along the Gulf of Aden.

Somalia has lacked a functioning central government since 1991 and has been afflicted by continual civil strife.

Last week, NATO agreed to send seven frigates to combat piracy in the region.