NAIROBI, Kenya—The violent attack on a cruise liner off Somalia’s coast shows pirates from the anarchic country on the Horn of Africa are becoming bolder and more ambitious in their efforts to hijack ships for ransom and loot, a maritime official warned Sunday.
Judging by the location of Saturday’s attack, the pirates likely were from the same group that hijacked a U.N.-chartered aid ship in June and held its crew and food cargo hostage for 100 days, said Andrew Mwangura, head of the Kenyan chapter of the Seafarers Assistance Program.
That gang is one of three well-organized pirate groups on the 1,880-mile coast of Somalia, which has had no effective government since opposition leaders ousted a dictatorship in 1991 and then turned on each other, leaving the nation of 7 million a patchwork of warlord fiefdoms.
The gunmen who shot at the Seabourn Spirit never got close enough to board the cruise ship, but one member of the 161-person crew was injured by shrapnel, according to the Miami-based Seabourn Cruise Line, a subsidiary of Carnival Corp.
The liner escaped by shifting to high speed and changing course. Its passengers, mostly Americans with some Australians and Europeans, were gathered in a lounge for safety and none were injured, the company said.
Passenger Charles Supple, 78, of Fiddletown, Calif., recalled by phone Sunday how his companion woke him up and said there was a boat right beside the cruise liner. He said the boat held four men in ski masks, dressed in black and armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.
“They were very agile in their boat,” he said. “We started hearing these things going ‘Ping! Ping! Ping!’ all over the ship. Then we realized it was an attack.”
The retired physician and World War II veteran said he took a picture of the boat, and one pirate fired a bazooka at him.
“I dropped the camera and dived. The grenade struck two decks above and about four rooms further forward. I could tell the guy firing the bazooka was smiling,” Supple said.