Update, 6:30 p.m. EDT: Shots fired from MSC Melody warded off this morning's pirate attack but have also drawn criticism from maritime officials; Andrew Mwangura of the Mombasa-based East African Seafarers Assistance Programme told Reuters, according to the U.K.'s Guardian, that having weapons onboard a passenger ship is dangerous and that the ship should have used sonic device instead. MSC spokespersons have not responded to multiple requests for additional information.
The Guardian also reports that attacks far out at sea, such as this one, have been made possible by the hijacking of merchant vessels, which are then used as "mother ships."
We've been told that 493 of the 994 passengers onboard are from the U.K. and Ireland. Are you onboard? We'd like to hear from you. Please e-mail us your story.
(7 a.m. EDT) -- MSC Cruises' 35,143-ton, 1,062-passenger MSC Melody successfully evaded a pirate attack today off the coast of the Seychelles.
Approximately 1,000 passengers and 500 crewmembers were onboard and nobody was hurt, according to an MSC Cruises statement.
The cruise ship was 200 miles north of the Seychelles and 500 miles east of Somalia at the time of the attack. Captain Ciro Pinto told Italian state radio, "it felt like we were in a war," the Associated Press reports. Six pirates approached the cruise ship in a white speed boat at 7:35 a.m. GMT and fired at it with automatic weapons. The pirates also tried to put a ladder onboard, but were unable to gain access to the ship.
According to the Melbourne Herald Sun, crew ordered passengers to clear the decks and take shelter in their cabins. Australians onboard told the publication that the pirates' gunshots shattered windows.
Private Israeli security forces onboard the cruise ship warded off the attack by opening fire on the bandits with pistols.
It's unusual for civilian ships to arm crewmen or hire armed security, according to the AP, "for reasons of safety, liability and compliance with the rules of the different countries where they dock." Domenico Pellegrino, general manager of the Italian cruise line, said the Israelis were hired "because they were the best trained security agents," according to the AP. Captain Pinto said that the pistols had been kept during the voyage in a safe under the joint control of the captain and security chief.
This exchange of fire is, according to the AP, the first reported between pirates and a nonmilitary ship.
The BBC reports that the shooting lasted for five minutes, with the pirates firing some 200 rounds. The BBC also reports that MSC Melody crew sprayed water on the gunmen when they tried to climb aboard using a ladder, and that the captain engaged the boat in a high speed chase.
On April 17, we reported that MSC Cruises had modified MSC Melody's itinerary in response to increasing concern about pirate attacks. Ironically, the ship was sailing 180 nautical miles from Port Victoria in the Seychelles at the time of the attack -- which was not on the original itinerary. It was added because of the changed route.
The ship is on a 21-night cruise from Durban, South Africa, to Genoa, Italy, and is now en route to Aqaba. A military vessel from the international security forces in the region has been sent to escort the Melody as a precaution, according to the cruise line's statement.
--by Melissa Baldwin Paloti, Managing Editor
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Update: MSC Cruise Ship Evades Pirates; 493 Passengers British, Irish
April 26, 2009