By FUMBUKA NG’WANAKILALA, Reuters
DAR ES SALAAM - The Tanzanian navy has captured a suspected Somali pirate after a gun battle in the Indian Ocean, police said on Monday.
The incident occurred on Sunday about 70 nautical miles off the Mtwara coast in southern Tanzania, in an area where London-based, Africa-focused oil and gas firm Ophir Energy has an exploration vessel.
“The Somali pirate boat opened heavy fire on the Tanzanian navy vessel on Sunday night. The navy vessel was seriously damaged and was pierced, with at least 50 bullet holes,” Mtwara Regional Police Commander Steven Buyuya told Reuters.
“We cannot rule out the possibility that the Somali pirates could have been planning to kidnap expatriate workers taking part in the oil exploration activities in Tanzania.”
Two Tanzanian soldiers were wounded. After the clash, navy and police boats were deployed to chase the pirate boat. They arrested one suspected pirate, who was brought to Dar es Salaam for interrogation, but the others escaped, Buyuya said.
Tanzania has attracted increased exploration interest in recent years. The Ophir Energy vessel was anchored at Mtwara port while police continued to patrol the area.
The East African country said in May it had agreed to prosecute Somali pirates in response to a European Union call for other nations in the region to share the financial and security burden with Kenya and the Seychelles.
Kenya has borne the brunt of catching and prosecuting sea bandits seized by foreign navies patrolling the Gulf of Aden’s busy shipping lanes, which link Europe with Africa and Asia.
In a separate development, the European Union Naval Force said it would hand to Kenya four suspected pirates whom Spanish naval ship SPS Galicia seized off eastern Somalia on Friday upon establishing they had taken hostage nine Kenyan crew and a Somali translator on a Kenyan dhow.
EUNAVFOR said in a statement the four would be transferred to Kenyan authorities in Mombasa. “The former hostages will be transferred to the Kenyan Police and Prosecutor to give their statements, and thereby assist in building the prosecution case,” it said.
The naval force said that since it signed an agreement with Kenya, 75 suspected pirates had been handed over. So far 14 had been convicted and sentenced to five years each.