The Gulf of Aden is a chokepoint off the Horn of Africa for merchant ships plying the Suez Canal. Pirates based in lawless Somalia are blamed for scores of attacks, usually aimed at extorting ransoms for cargo and crews. In recent months, several countries in Europe and Asia have sent warships to the area. (See a map of the Gulf of Aden here.)
Two weeks ago, pirates seized a German tanker carrying liquefied petroleum gas in the same waterway, the third such hijacking so far this year. The M/V Longchamp was then taken to Somalia after contact was made with the ship owners, reports Voice of America.
Last week, a Ukrainian ship captured in September was released after a $3.2 million ransom was reportedly paid to Somali pirates. The M/V Faina was bringing tanks and weaponry to an unspecified buyer in East Africa, and its seizure drew attention to the cargo, says the Financial Times. Along with a Saudi oil tanker seized in November, the Faina was among the highest-profile hijackings and a spur for international efforts to secure the waterways.
Singapore said Thursday it would send a ship and two helicopters to assist the international task force. Defense Minister Teo Chee Hean told Singapore's parliament that the deployment would last three months, reports Channel News Asia.