Video: Cruise liner attacked by pirates

A CRUISE company based in Ipswich today defended a decision to operate through a dangerous shipping route after one of its luxury liners was allegedly targeted by suspected pirates.

A CRUISE company based in Ipswich today defended a decision to operate through a dangerous shipping route after one of its luxury liners was allegedly targeted by suspected pirates.

It has been reported that the Balmoral, run by Fred Olsen, was approached by Somali bandits on Tuesday.

The round-the-world liner has 1,300 passengers on board - 95 per cent of whom are British, but it is not yet known if any passengers are from Suffolk.

One of the crew said shots were fired as two small craft approached the giant ship while it sailed through seas dubbed the Gates of Hell off Somalia.

But Fred Olsen, which has a branch in Upper Brook Street, Ipswich, today denied the liner was attacked by armed pirates and said the “shots” were probably flares launched by the 43,000-ton boat to alert task force warships.

In the last nine months of 2008, there were 42 hijackings off Somalia with owners paying �100million in ransom money.

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But Wendy Hooper-Greenhill, public relations manager for Fred Olsen, said the company weren't deterred by the perils of those waters.

She said: “We are worried because of the publicity attached to that part of the world, so all precautions that can be taken are taken.

“All the passengers are aware of the area they are going through. They were all prepared and all precautions were followed through to a tee.

“There is a lot of shipping going through that area and is much-used both for freight and passenger ships. That's why the task force is there.”

The company, which denies their liner was attacked, said two “suspicious vessels” were spotted on radar at 7.45pm and at 8.45pm the warship confirmed the area was clear.

A statement from Fred Olsen added: “During the incident, searchlights were directed at the approaching craft and flares used to indicate that it had been observed.

“Fred Olsen Cruise Lines can state categorically that there was no gunfire, and that although the approaching vessel got to within 400m of Balmoral it left the area without incident.

“The Master of Balmoral has reported that the mood on board was good throughout with no panic or adverse reaction from the passengers.”

The US Navy ship then escorted the Balmoral through the Gulf of Aden before the liner headed off to its next destination in Oman.

Some passengers on board reportedly paid up to �30,000 for a 104-night adventure on the liner, which left Dover on St Valentine's Day.

- Do you know someone on the Balmoral? Call the news desk on 01473 324788 or e-mail starnews@eveningstar.co.uk or news@eadt.co.uk