German operators of hijacked ship in contact with Somali pirates

Other News Materials 1 February 2009 15:50 (UTC +04:00)

The German operators of a tanker hijacked off the coast of Somalia are hoping to stay in touch with the ship after establishing initial contact with the pirates, they said Sunday.

"We hope to stay in dialogue," with the pirates on board the MV Longchamp, a spokesman for Bernhard Schulte ship management company said, hours after they had received a first phone call from the captors, dpa reported.

The pirates on board the tanker contacted the Hamburg-based shipping company Saturday, two days after taking charge of the tanker. "We received a phone call and were also able to talk briefly with the captain," the spokesman said.

The captain had been able to confirm that all 13 crew members - 12 Filipinos and one Indonesian - were in good health.

Bernhard Schulte Ship Management were unable to confirm whether a ransom had been demanded. They did not know how many pirates were on board the ship.

The tanker, transporting liquefied petroleum gas, was seized on Thursday morning, en route from Europe to the Far East.

The 100-metre-long vessel belongs to MPC Steamship, a branch of a German investment group, a spokesman for the company in Hamburg said.

MPC Steamship contracts the operation out to the Bernhard Schulte ship management company, a longtime Hamburg shipping operator.

Currently the ship is chartered to yet another company, Bridge Marine, which is registered in the Liberian capital Monrovia.

The MPC spokesman said the ship had passed through the Suez Canal and waited for a day to join a convoy under Indian naval protection as it passed through pirate-infested waters.

However, the Indians could not prevent pirates from seizing the vessel, which was steered away from the convoy toward the Somali coast.

Lawyers in Hamburg are preparing a case, on the grounds of attack on air and sea transport, thought to be the first case against piracy to be filed in Hamburg.

Attacks on air and sea transport carry sentences of a minimum five years' prison in German law.