An Italian cruise ship carrying 1,200 passengers and crew fended off a pirate attack near the Seychelles, company officials said Sunday. The ship was attacked on Saturday evening by armed pirates firing shots from a small speedboat, 330 kilometres from the Seychelles where the liner had last anchored.
It appears to be the latest in a long line of Somali pirate attacks in the waters off the Horn of Africa this year, which have prompted military patrols by the EU, and the US navy.
Security personnel on board the cruise ship returned fire, while the captain was able to outmanoeuvre the attackers, a spokeswoman for MSC Cruises in Munich said.
None of the roughly 1,200 passengers and 500 crew on board was injured, the spokeswoman added. The operator said most travellers were European, including many Italians as well as Austrians, Swiss and British citizens. Initial reports of the attack came from a German passenger, who phoned Hamburg-based Spiegel news magazine.
During a show on board, shots were suddenly being fired, the passenger said.
The passenger heard repeated gunfire, while other guests saw a white speed boat following the cruise ship.
The cruise operator said it was taken completely by surprise by the attack, which happened on open sea approximately 1,100 kilometres off the Somali coast, according to Captain Ciro Pinto.
Capt Pinto told the BBC that the pirates tried to hijack his ship late on Saturday, about 290km (180 miles) north of Victoria in the Seychelles.One white small boat with six people on board approached the port [left] side of the ship and started shooting. The captain said the pirates fired some 200 rounds of shots on the vessel. His said our security started shooting in the air... and also we started spraying some water to beat off the attackers. Capt Pinto said the pirates were forced to give up after about five minutes of shooting and a high-speed chase; he assumed the pirates must have had backup from a nearby ship.
The management and the shipping company are very shocked. This will surely have consequences for our future route planning, MSC's spokeswoman said. We didn't choose a dangerous route, the MSC representative said, adding that this was the first time a cruise ship of theirs had come under attack.
Italian media reported that the six attackers were armed with Kalashnikov machine guns, and caused slight damage to the ship. The on-board security staff reportedly also used fire extinguishers to fend off the pirates.
International marine organisations have now provided a military ship to escort the MSC Melody, which has continued its scheduled journey to Aqaba in Jordan, the cruise operator said.
The final destination of the cruise, en route from South Africa, is the Italian port of Genoa. Italian-owned MSC Crociere is headquartered in Geneva and offers cruises to passengers from around the world.
MSC Melody, built in 1982, was taken over and refurbished by the cruise operator in 2001. The ship is flying under a Panamanian flag.
Pirates have attacked more than 100 ships off the Somali coast over the last year, reaping an estimated $1 million in ransom for each successful hijacking, according to analysts and country experts.
In a separate incident on Sunday, two Somali pirates were killed after a group of pirates attempted to seize an empty Yemeni oil tanker in the Gulf of Aden, the Reuters news agency reported.
Three pirates and two Yemeni coast guards were also wounded as Yemeni authorities tried to free the vessel, government officials said.
The tanker can carry 3,000 tonnes, but was not carrying any cargo when it was seized off the coast of the Arabian Peninsula country, the official told Reuters.
Pirates have seized dozens of ships in the Indian Ocean, many of which have been released after their owners paid tens of millions of dollars in ransoms.