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A U.S.-flagged container ship which was hijacked by Somali pirates seven months ago has been attacked again off the coast of Somalia. Pirates were unsuccessful in their second attempt to hijack the Maersk Alabama.
U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain, says four pirates riding in a fast skiff came within 270 meters of the American-flagged container ship early Wednesday morning. Maersk Alabama was about 965 kilometers off the northeast coast of Somalia and was steaming toward the Kenyan port city of Mombasa when it came under attack.
The U.S. Navy says the crew of Maersk Alabama undertook evasive maneuvers and deployed long-range acoustical devices, which make noise painful to the human ear. The crew also responded with small-arms fire after pirates fired automatic weapons at the ship. The pirates abandoned the attack without causing injuries or damage to the vessel.
U.S. Vice Admiral Bill Gortney, from the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, issued a statement, praising Maersk Alabama's owner and crew for following maritime industry's best practices, including having a security team on board to help prevent a hijacking.
In April, the 155-meter vessel made international headlines when it was seized by pirates who held captain Richard Phillips hostage at gunpoint for five days in a lifeboat. He was freed by U.S. commandos who killed three of the pirates.
A spokesman for the European Naval Force described the second attempted hijacking of the Maersk Alabama as "pure chance."
Wednesday's attack came on the heels of a U.N. report, which said the presence of international warships off the coast of Somalia, as well as improved efforts by ships to protect themselves, have considerably reduced the number of successful hijackings in the region this year, especially in the Gulf of Aden.
But the report, submitted by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, noted that intensified anti-piracy activity in the Gulf of Aden is also forcing pirates to hunt for targets in the Indian Ocean, closer to the island nation of the Seychelles.
Since the beginning of October, seven of the eight vessels seized by pirates have been in the vicinity of the Seychelles. Recently, the government began allowing the U.S. Navy to use the airport in the capital Mahe to deploy unmanned aerial vehicles to combat piracy. The Seychelles also signed an agreement last week to allow European warships and military personnel to pursue pirates from the high seas into Seychellian waters and to use necessary force.
A regional analyst for Jane's Defense Weekly, Lauren Gelfand, says pirates are showing greater sophistication and adaptability every year, challenging international efforts to find effective counter measures.
"The deterrence efforts are working in the Gulf of Aden," said Gelfand. "But they are also limited in their effectiveness because it is such a vast area they are trying to patrol with limited assets. And the fact that there are not enough air assets, whether it is maritime patrol aircraft or UAVs, shows that they are only going to be limited in their success in deterring further pirate attacks as pirates become more and more innovative."
Somalia-based pirates are currently holding 13 vessels and crew hostage for ransom. They are also holding a retired British couple, kidnapped from their sail boat off the Seychelles last month.