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Two hostages killed as Danish warship fires on Somali pirates

February 28, 2012 | 11:35 am

REPORTING FROM JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA -- A Danish warship opened fire on a Somali pirate ship, killing two hostages and arresting 17 suspects, according to an announcement Tuesday by the Royal Danish Navy.

There were 18 hostages on board the pirate boat, two of whom were injured in the gunfight Sunday night, and died. The nationality of the hostages was not disclosed.

According to a Danish navy statement, the warship Absalon had been patrolling off the Gulf of Aden, under the command of NATO, which is putting Somali pirates under pressure in order to prevent attacks on ships.

Absalon had been shadowing a pirate ship for several days, according to the Danish navy, and moved to stop the vessel when it tried to head out to sea Sunday night.

The navy said when the the crew didn't stop despite warning shots, Absalon opened fire to prevent the boat from escaping. It described the boat as a pirate "mother ship", usually a fishing boat used as a base from which smaller speedboats with heavily armed pirates are launched to attack ships.

The Absalon doctor failed to save the lives of the two hostages hurt in the confrontation. The navy said it was not known how the hostages received their injuries, but this was being investigated.

Danish authorities said there were plans to prosecute the pirates.

Somalia, which has been a lawless and chaotic state at war for around two decades, has become a piracy hot spot, with dozens of attacks in waters off Somalia in recent years, and pirates demanding steep ransoms for the release of hostages and crew.

The cost of piracy last year reached $6.6 billion to $6.9 billion, according to a report this month by a Colorado not-for-profit foundation, One Earth Future. In 2011, 1,118 seafarers were held hostage and 24 died. Additionally last year, 31 ransoms were paid to Somali pirates, costing the shipping industry $160 million. Security equipment cost $1.1 billion and insurance cost $635 million.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told last week's London conference on Somalia, an international meeting of global leaders designed to resolve Somalia's crisis, that piracy was still rampant off the coast of Somalia and it was imperative that more nations prosecute and jail pirates who attacked ships.

British Prime Minister David Cameron called for an international task force to prevent the payment of ransoms, because paying them only ensured that crime paid.


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-- Robyn Dixon