Page last updated at 12:03 GMT, Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Cruise ship evades pirate attack

The Nautica outran the Somali pirates, officials said

A US cruise ship carrying more than 1,000 people was targeted at the weekend by pirates off the coast of Somalia, maritime officials say.

Two small boats chased and fired shots at the Nautica eight times, but failed to board the vessel.

Her captain, Jurica Brajcic, manoeuvred away from the pirates and increased speed to outrun them.

The Nautica, with 656 passengers and 399 crew, was in waters patrolled by a multinational task force.

The ship was on a 32-day cruise from Rome to Singapore when it was attacked at 0930 local time (0630) on Sunday in the Gulf of Aden.

Oceania Cruises, the Miami-based company which owns the Nautica, described the events leading to the incident on their website.

"The skiffs, approaching from a range of approximately 1,000 metres, attempted to intercept the vessel's course," it said.

"Captain Jurica Brajcic and his officers immediately began evasive manoeuvres and took all prescribed precautions."

Helicopter scrambled

The Times in London quotes a spokesman for the Danish Navy, which has current responsibility for maritime safety in that area, saying that a vessel was called on to aid the Nautica.

Map showing areas of pirate attacks
92 attacks this year - most in the Gulf of Aden
36 successful hijackings
14 ships currently held, including the MV Faina carrying tanks
268 crew held hostage
Source: International Maritime Bureau, 2008

Danish TV later reported that a French Navy helicopter had been scrambled at its request.

The Nautica is the largest, though not the first, cruise ship to be targeted by pirates off the Somali coast.

In April this year, pirates seized Le Ponant, a luxury liner with 30 people on board. They were eventually freed after an eight day stand-off.

Oceania Cruises said it believed the attack was an isolated incident and that it would not be cancelling planned trips in the area.

The Nautica was scheduled to dock at ports in Italy, Egypt, Oman, Dubai, India, Malaysia and Thailand.

Correspondents say that despite the US-led creation of a special security corridor in the area, pirate attacks are continuing.

Pirates are still holding a Saudi tanker, the Sirius Star, and its cargo of 2m barrels of oil off the Somali coast.

On Tuesday, the AFP news agency quoted Somalia's insurgent Islamist leader, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, calling for "the release of all vessels under the command of Somali pirates".

Mr Aweys added that his Islamist grouping was the only force capable of governing Somalia, which has not had a functioning government since 1991.

Had they still been in charge in Mogadishu, the pirates would have been stamped out, he said.

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