A German anti-terrorim contingent has freed a Cypriot-registered vessel that had been hijacked off the Somali coast by local militiamen. The Germans are part of an international coalition patrolling the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean searching for members of the Al-Qaeda terror group. Three German vessels helped free the Cypriot ship called the MV Pagania Tinou and its 23 Filipino crew members on Thursday. The crew told the Germans they had been held captive by Somali pirates since June 15th.
According to commander Helmut Zimmerman of the German Naval Air Wing Detachment in Mombasa, the German vessels intervened after receiving a distress call from the hijacked vessel. He said they secured the area around the hijacked vessel to ensure the safety of the crew and cargo. Commander ZImmerman said the ship was released following successful negotiations between the shipping agents and the Somali militiamen before it was escorted out of the area by one of the German frigates. He said no military force was needed.
Because of a shortage of police, the Somali coast has for many years been vulnerable to piracy. Last year, there were 26 cases of hijacking in the area but the number has dropped to three so far this year due to the presence of international forces monitoring potential terrorist activity. The London-based International Transport Workers Federation says it is suspected that terror mastermind Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network have 23 ships they are using for illegal activities. International coalition forces patrolling the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean are said to be searching for the vessels and for Al Qaeda members trying to slip into Somalia. Analysts say with its lack of a strong central government and police force, Somalia is one of several places in Africa that are attractive to terrorists.