Thursday, October 30, 2008

Radioactive? 16 pirates died after handling substance on captured Iranian ship

The media handles this story as if it were radioactive, that's for sure.

LONDON — An Iranian ship captured by Somali pirates carried sealed containers of a powdery substance believed to be nuclear or chemical weapons agents.

Western intelligence agencies have been monitoring the capture of the Iran Deyanat, seized by Somali pirates on Aug. 21. The cargo ship, owned and operated by the state-owned Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, or IRISL, contains sealed cargo thought to be linked to the death of 16 pirates.

In September 2008, IRISL came under U.S. sanctions as a company that helps Iran's nuclear and other strategic programs, Middle East Newsline reported.

Industry sources said the ship's crew of 29, about half of them Iranians and reported to have left China on July 28, would neither disclose the exact contents of the cargo nor provide the code to open the sealed containers.

In the Somali port village of Eyl, pirates blasted open one of the seven cargo units, said to contain an unidentified powdery substance.

About 40 pirates, armed with rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles, boarded the Iranian ship, owned by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, in the Horn of Africa, about 130 kilometers southeast of Yemen. Iran Deyanat was registered to carry a sealed cargo of 42,500 tons minerals and industrial products to the Netherlands via Egypt's Suez Canal.

"That ship is unusual," Somali Regional Energy Minister Hassan Allore Osman, who has been investigating the Iranian ship, said. "It is not carrying a normal shipment."

"We cannot inspect the cargo yet," Osman said. "But we are sure that it is weapons."

"Our sources say it contains chemicals, dangerous chemicals," Andrew Mwangura, the director of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme, said.

Within days, the pirates sustained skin burns, lost hair and became critically ill. Soon after, at least 16 pirates died.

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