A tense standoff has developed in waters off Somalia over an Iranian merchant ship laden with a mysterious cargo that was hijacked by pirates.
Somali pirates suffered skin burns, lost hair and fell gravely ill “within days” of boarding the MV Iran Deyanat. Some of them died.
Andrew Mwangura, the director of the East African Seafarers’ Assistance Programme, told the Sunday Times: “We don’t know exactly how many, but the information that I am getting is that some of them had died. There is something very wrong about that ship.”The vessel’s declared cargo consists of “minerals” and “industrial products”. But officials involved in negotiations over the ship are convinced that it was sailing for Eritrea to deliver small arms and chemical weapons to Somalia’s Islamist rebels.
The ship set sail from Nanjing, China, at the end of July. According to its manifest, it was heading for Rotterdam where it would unload 42500 tons of iron ore and “industrial products” purchased by a German client.
At Eyl, the ship was secured by more pirates — about 50 on board, and another 50 on shore.
But within days those who had boarded the ship developed mysterious health trouble.
This was also confirmed by Hassan Allore Osman, minister of minerals and oil in Puntland, an autonomous region of Somalia.
He headed a delegation sent to Eyl when news of the toxic cargo and illnesses surfaced.
He told one news publication, The Long War Journal, that during the six days he had negotiated with the pirates, a number of them had become sick and died.
“That ship is unusual,” he was quoted as saying. “It is not carrying a normal shipment.”
The pirates did reveal that they had tried to inspect the ship’s cargo containers when some of them fell sick — but the containers were locked.