Mon, Nov 07, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Luxury liner outruns pirates off Somali coast

NIGHTMARE CRUISEMen in two boats fired rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns in a bid to rob the tourist boat, but got left in the ship's wake


Pirates armed with grenade launchers and machine guns tried to hijack a luxury cruise liner off the east African coast, but the ship shifted into high gear and outran them, officials said.

Two boats full of pirates approached the Seabourn Spirit about 160km off the Somali coast Saturday and opened fire while the heavily armed bandits tried to get onboard, said Bruce Good, spokesman for the Miami-based Seabourn Cruise Line, a subsidiary of Carnival Corp.

The ship escaped by shifting to high speed and changing course.

"I looked out of the window and saw a small boat with about five people in it about 20 yards [18m] away," said Norman Fisher, 55, a passenger.

"They were firing the rifle and then fired the rocket launcher twice. One of the rockets certainly hit the ship. It went through the side of the liner into a passenger's suite," he said.

"These are very well-organized pirates," said Andrew Mwangura, head of the Kenyan chapter of the Seafarers Assistance Program. "Somalia's coastline is the most dangerous place in the region in terms of maritime security."

The attackers never got close enough to board the Spirit, but one member of the 161-person crew was injured by shrapnel, cruise line president Deborah Natansohn said.

Good said training had helped the crew repel the attack.

"There were some windows broken, nothing that affected seaworthiness," Good said. "The crew did an excellent job and those guys gave up. ... These guys didn't plan this too well."

The vessel's 151 passengers, mostly Americans with some Australians and Europeans, were gathered in a lounge for their safety, Good said. None were injured.

Passengers awoke to the sound of gunfire as two nearly 8m inflatable boats approached the liner, the British news agency Press Association reported. Fisher said the captain tried to ram one of the boats in an attempt to capsize it and stop them getting aboard.

"The captain didn't sound the usual alarm because he was worried that people would run up on the deck thinking it was a fire, and that would be the worst place to be," he said.

"Instead he made an announcement at five past six, saying: `Stay inside, stay inside, we are under attack.'"

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