Saturday, April 4, 2009

Seychelles deploys troops after pirate attacks

VICTORIA, April 2 (Reuters) - Security forces have deployed to outer islands of the Seychelles archipelago after a second vessel flying the Indian Ocean nation's flag was seized by Somali pirates, the army chief said on Thursday.

Pirates hijacked the oceanographic research cruiser Indian Ocean Explorer this week near Seychelles' island of Assumption with seven locals on board. Several weeks ago, pirates seized the yacht Serenity with three people on board. "We have doubled the strength of our forces there and given the coastguards the necessary instructions. Our forces are ready for any eventualities," said Brigadier Leopold Payet.

The Seychelles archipelago covers more than 1.3 million square km (500,000 square miles) of the Western Indian Ocean although total land area is 445 square km.

Navies from around the world have sent warships to the perilous waters off Somalia to shield vessels plying the busy shipping lanes linking Asia to Europe.

Two European-owned tankers were seized within 24 hours last last month and are heading to Somali coastal havens. The pirates typically demand ransoms and release the ships and crew unharmed once they have been paid.

While the number of successful hijackings this year has fallen from a year earlier, there are near daily attempts and some gunmen have shifted their focus to more remote waters north of Madagascar and near the Seychelles.

Government sources said the Indian Ocean Explorer crew were safe and they believed the vessel was heading to Somalia.

"We will act within the limits of what we can do, and within the limits of all international assistance that can be mobilised, to try to secure the release of all these people on board the Indian Ocean Explorer and the ones taken some time back on the Serenity," the government said in a statement.

"We strongly condemn any act of aggression against our citizens, property and territory," it said.