Pirates attack Japanese tanker, Spanish boat in Gulf of Aden

( AP ) - Pirates in the lawless Gulf of Aden fired on a Japanese oil tanker Monday, unleashing hundreds of gallons of fuel into the sea, a day after a Spanish tuna boat was hijacked using rocket-propelled grenades.

The attacks highlight an alarming increase in piracy by well-armed bandits, prompting international demands for better protection of the world's shipping lanes.

France plans to present a proposal at the United Nations that would create an international "right of pursuit" allowing countries to chase pirates when they try to flee into territorial waters, the French Foreign Ministry said.

The proposal, which comes after a French luxury yacht was hijacked this month, would also urge stronger maritime patrols in high-risk areas.

In the latest incidents, the suspected pirate ship fired on the Japanese tanker in the Gulf of Aden, ripping a one-inch hole in the ship that caused the fuel to leak, officials said. The attack help send crude oil prices to a new record, spiking above $117 a barrel Monday before falling back slightly.

The 150,000-ton tanker was attacked 170 miles off the coast of Yemen while it was heading to Saudi Arabia. No one was injured, its Japanese operator Nippon Yusen K.K. said.

In a separate attack Sunday in the Gulf of Aden, pirates approached the Spanish Playa de Bakio and opened fire with rocket-propelled grenades, striking it but causing no serious damage, said an official in Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's office.

Spain sent a frigate to the site of the hijacking about 200 miles off the coast of Somalia. Twenty-six crew were aboard the 250-foot vessel when the pirates forced their way on the ship.

Cadena Ser, a Spanish radio station, said it managed to get through to the fishing boat and hold a short, frantic conversation with one sailor. In 12 seconds, the sailor asked four times that the broadcaster not call back.

"Please do not call back. They are watching us," the crewman said, according to Cadena Ser.

The Spanish prime minister's office said efforts were under way to secure the sailors' release, and that aid was being sought from NATO, the African Union, France and Britain. Spain does not have an embassy in Somalia, which has not had an effective government since 1991.

The hijackers are demanding money but have not specified how much, Rosa Maria Alvarez, the daughter of the ship's skipper, Amadeo Alvarez Gomez, told Spanish National Radio. The government declined to comment on her remarks.

Last week, French judges filed preliminary charges against six Somali pirates accused of holding 30 hostages aboard a French luxury yacht for a week in the Gulf of Aden.

A six were captured after they were chased by a French military helicopter after the April 11 release of the yacht's crew. The ship's owners reportedly paid a ransom.

According to a report from the International Maritime Bureau, piracy is on the rise, with seafarers suffering 49 attacks between January and March - up 20 percent from the period last year.

Pirates boarded 36 vessels and hijacked one, the report said. Seven crew members were taken hostage, six were kidnapped, three were killed and one went missing. Most of the attackers were heavily armed with guns or knives, the report said.

Nigeria ranked as the No. 1 trouble spot. India and the Gulf of Aden tied for second, with each reporting five incidents. Those in India were low-key attacks aimed at theft, while the Gulf of Aden was prone to hijackings, the bureau said.

Nearly two dozen piracy incidents were recorded off the coast of Somalia since January 2007, according to Andrew Mwangura of the Kenya-based Seafarers Assistance Program.

Wracked by more than a decade of violence and anarchy, Somalia does not have a navy, and a transitional government formed in 2004 with U.N. help has struggled to assert control. The U.S. Navy has led international patrols to try to combat piracy in the region.

"Waters around Somalia continue to be notorious for hijacking of vessels and the abduction of crew for ransom," the Maritime Bureau said in its report. "The heavier concentration of traffic in the Gulf of Aden means the pirates do not have to range as far away from the coast."

The European Union presidency on Monday called for a strong international effort to address piracy and said this "should be made in close cooperation with other international actors, particularly in the framework of the U.N."

At the European Parliament, Spanish lawmaker Mikel Irujo Amezaga urged immediate action.

"There is a lack of EU legislation on maritime security. Security is more or less regulated inside the EU but once you go outside, there's nothing at all protecting European ships. We're going to ask the (European) Commission again to rectify this," Irujo Amezaga said by telephone.

Cyrus Mody, a senior analyst at the Maritime Bureau, warned of piracy's effect on the shipping industry.

"Insurance gets involved, premiums rise up, the owner is not happy so he will raise his freight cost. If he does that, the cost to the end buyer increases and at the end the common man has to bare the brunt," he said. "It's a cycle and it keeps going on."

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