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February 27, 2009

Chinese warship thwarts pirate attack

The 74,000 dwt Liberian-flag panamax tanker Lia, commercially managed by Amsterdam-based Seaarland Shipping Management, and technically managed by Motia Compagnia di Navigazione, has escaped a pirate attack thanks to swift action by a Chinese warship.

The vessel's crew, all 26 of whom are Indian nationals, are unhurt and the ship is proceeding normally on its voyage.

The Lia had loaded its cargo of naphtha in Amsterdam/Limassol and was proceeding to its discharge destination in China. The vessel arrived at the meeting point in the Gulf of Aden and, in line with company policy, awaited a naval escort for the transit of the Gulf of Aden.

The vessel was given a military escort by a Chinese warship along with three other vessels. On February 24, at 0900hrs, the vessel experienced an engine malfunction and was forced to stop. At 0935hrs the officer of the watch detected on radar two high-speed craft approaching the vessel and closing in dangerously. The Master raised the alarm on board and the crew started taking action as per the standard vessel security plan.

The Master asked the Chinese warship for immediate helicopter assistance, which arrived on the scene within minutes of the request. The helicopter positioned itself over the craft and the craft then ceased their approach to the Lia.

After this response by the warship and its helicopter, the Lia escaped the attempted attack and resumed its voyage. The vessel completed safe transit of the Gulf of Aden on February 25 and is now proceeding to discharge its cargo in China.

Last year Seaarland announced that it would route all its owned and chartered ships via the Cape of Good Hope unless a military escort through the Gulf of Aden was available.

Antonio Zacchello, managing director of Seaarland, says, "We have to act to protect our crews from piracy attack. In this case our decision to wait for a military escort proved correct. We thank them and the authorities and we hope that further action will be taken to eliminate piracy in this area, for the safety of our crews and for the good flow of trade. But for now we maintain our policy. We know this will cause extra expense and some delays for us and our charterers, but we work with good long-term partners and they understand the problem and understand that we have to protect our crews and ships, and their cargoes. Until the international community acts to suppress this piracy menace, the safest thing we can do is stay out of the area or use the military escorts, even if it means waiting, and that is what we are going to do, until the situation improves.

"This would have been another vessel in the hands of pirates had it not been for the intervention of the warship and the helicopter. These initiatives were available primarily as a result of strong political support, and for this we express our sincere gratitude and appreciation to all involved."

Seaarland is an Amsterdam-based shipmanagement company operating a fleet of tankers and bulk carriers for a variety of owners.


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