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Pirates leave weapons ship - Leopard crew abducted

Leopard crew abducted

The crew members of a Danish weapons ship boarded but not hijacked by pirates in the Indian Ocean have been kidnapped, TradeWinds can reveal.

In what represents a major departure from Somali pirates' usual modus operandi, the six seafarers have been snatched and moved to a seized Taiwanese fishing vessel which is operating as a morthership.

It had been hoped that a search of the 1,780-dwt Leopard (built 1989) by members of the Turkish Navy would turn up the two Danes and four Filipinos who had hid in a citadel when they came under attack west of the Gulf of Aden on Wednesday afternoon.

When troops from the warship boarded the Leopard they found no trace of any pirates or pirate skiffs and, following an otherwise thorough search, set about breaking into the citadel.

Once inside, however, they discovered that the crew had disappeared, an informed source told TradeWinds. It is believed that the pirates may already have made contact with the Denmark-flagged ship's owner or operator to inform them that the crew has been abducted. TradeWinds understands that they are currently onboard the Shiuh Fu No 1, a Taiwanese fishing vessel seized at the end of last year and thought to be used as a mothership.

The Leopard is known to be carrying what various informed sources have described as a "sensitive" cargo which is believed to include weapons. Although ships operated by Shipcraft, the Leopard's Danish operator, routinely carry nuclear items, this vessel is not believed to have any onboard.

It is unknown if the pirates have touched any of the cargo while the welfare of the crew is also not known. Representatives from ShipCraft have steadfastly refused to comment on the issue when contacted by TradeWinds on several occasions on Wednesday and Thursday. The company deactivated its website on Thursday morning as reports began to filter through that the ship was carrying a potentially dangerous cargo and it remains "under construction".

Taking crew members from a vessel which they have boarded is virtually unprecedented for Somali pirates. One instance involved the British couple Paul and Rachel Chandler who had their yacht Lynn Rival hijacked in October 2009 before they were moved to the seized 1,550-teu Kota Wajar (built 1997). From there they were taken ashore and held hostage for over a year and only freed last November.

It is not known what caused the pirates to abandon the Leopard although it is possible that the ship had been disabled by its crew before they hid in the citadel. They may also have felt that the high-profile nature of the cargo could also have posed a heightened risk of naval or military intervention.


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