Kiwis safe after cruise ship fights off pirates

By NZPA, Isaac Davison

A large group of New Zealanders on an Italian cruise liner took shelter in their cabins as security guards on the ship fought a gun battle with pirates off the coast of Somalia.

Israeli security guards on the MSC Melody were issued with pistols by Captain Ciro Pinto and opened fire as the pirates tried to climb the sides of the ship. Lights on the ship were switched off to obscure the boat's features, and a fire hose was also used to repel the attack late on Saturday.

Captain Pinto later said the attack had felt like "war" and that one passenger and one crew member were injured by broken glass from windows shattered by gunfire.

The ship's other 990 passengers were not injured, including 42 New Zealanders booked on the cruise through World Journeys in Auckland.

Director Kate Gohar told the Herald that she spoke to the Kiwi tour group yesterday morning and said they were "fine and safe".

"They don't seem to be very rattled at all. Kiwis are very resilient."

Ms Gohar said the passengers were taken to their cabins during the attack 960km off the Somali coast.

Foreign Affairs officials in Wellington said 20 other Kiwis were known to be on board.

Two of those on the ship were Ray and Janet Davidson from New Plymouth. Their daughter Robyn Burton told 3News: "Before they left we gave them a hard time about the pirates and I said to mum, 'Don't take all your good jewellery in case you get attacked by pirates'."

Oliver Salt, the son of another passenger, said: "I got an email from Mum this morning which just said that her cruise ship had been attacked by pirates last night. The crew just told them they should go to their rooms and lock the doors and turn off the lights and then she heard extensive gunfire."

"It was as if we were at war," Captain Pinto said, describing the clash in which his ship - with 536 crew - sustained smashed windows and bullet holes in the hull and a lifeboat.

Six men in a speedboat and armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles attacked the ship, he said. He issued pistols to the guards, who "opened fire, and when they [the pirates] saw we were shooting, they abandoned their effort and went away".

The Melody was on a cruise from Durban in South Africa to the Italian port of Genoa.

Ms Gohar said the cruise ship was expecting extra security for the next leg of its voyage, through to the port of Aqaba on the Jordanian coast.

On April 17, MSC Cruises said the Melody would be charting a new course, taking it further away from the Somali coast to minimise the risk of attack.

About 16 ships and 270 hostages are being held by Somali pirates seeking ransoms for the release of vessels.

- NZ Herald

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