Danish hostages believed to be held off Somali coast

08:59, March 04, 2011      

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A Danish family taken hostage by pirates was believed to have been taken to waters off Somalia's northern coast, still aboard their yacht, Denmark national broadcaster DR News said Thursday.

The captured Danish yacht is believed to be somewhere between Hafun and Bargaal towns, 10 to 15 nautical miles (19 to 28 kilometers) off the northern Somalia coast. At least 10 pirates were believed to be on board with the hostages, said the report, citing an anonymous source in Somalia.

In a related development, Abdul Aziz, a Somali journalist based in Nairobi, capital of Somalia's southern neighbor Kenya, told DR News the pirates were increasingly bringing hostages to locations in and around northern Somalia.

This was because the pirates' movements were being restricted by the fundamentalist Al-Shabaab militia forces, who control much of the central and southern parts of the country, including parts of the capital, Mogadishu.

The Danish hostages consist of a family of five, including three children aged 12 to 16, their parents, and two other adult guests. They sailed into the waters off Somalia's coast despite warnings from naval forces on Monday.

However, they were able to send a distress signal to the Danish Navy Operation Command, alerting them of the hijacking.

Denmark's Foreign Ministry said Wednesday relatives of the captured Danes had made contact with the hostages, as well as the pirates. A professional security firm was advising the relatives, free of charge, on how to proceed with negotiations, the ministry said in a statement posted on its website.

So far, pirates have detained 660 hostages and around 30 vessels. Nearly all the hostages have been released after the payment of multi-million dollar ransoms.

In comments made to the Associated Press, a Somali pirate named Abdullahi Mohamed warned that any attempt to rescue the Danish family would lead to their death.

Mohamed had ties to the pirate gang holding the Danish family, and had provided reliable information on pirate activities in the region, the Associated Press said.

His warning against a rescue attempt holds especial relevance as it comes after four Americans were killed by pirates shortly before a rescue attempt by U.S. Naval forces. Like the Danish family, the Americans were captured while sailing near the Somali coast.

Denmark's political leaders are growing increasingly frustrated by the lack of prosecution of captured pirates.

Berlingske.dk, an online Danish daily, reports a consensus is growing among Denmark's members of parliament that agreements are urgently needed with countries in the region of the Gulf of Aden and Somalia to enable prosecution of these captured pirates.

Danish warships Esbern Snare and Absalon are on patrol in the Indian Ocean off Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden, as part of a NATO anti-piracy force named Operation Ocean Shield, which is mandated to protect merchant shipping in the area.

The mission has been operational since 2008, and has been involved in several actions against pirates. But captured pirates are often released for lack of sufficient grounds for prosecution.

In comments made to Berlingske.dk, Commander Kenneth Nielsen of the Danish Navy Operational Command said "around 200 pirates were released after having been held by Danish forces in the area," of which only five were prosecuted in the Netherlands.

Without a functional government since 1991, Somalia has become a home for pirates who have launched numerous attacks on commercial shipping off its coast. The pirates are believed to make millions of dollars by capturing and ransoming both commercial and private ships and crews.

Source: Xinhua

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