• Kyodo News

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An automobile carrier operated by Mitsui O.S.K. Lines was attacked by pirates off Somalia but managed to escape, the transport ministry said Monday.

Pirates in two small vessels approached the ship Sunday and fired several shots before escaping, the ministry said.

The windows and ceiling of the bridge of the Jasmine Ace were hit by bullets, but no one was hurt, the ministry said. Registered in the Cayman Islands — a British territory — the ship has a crew of 18, all Filipinos.

After the attack, which occurred at around 10 p.m. Sunday Japan time around 900 km east of Somalia, the freighter zigzagged for about 40 minutes and got clear of the two boats that were chasing it, according to the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry.

The ship was heading toward Mombasa, Kenya, when it was attacked.

Last year, 12 Japanese-owned or -operated ships were attacked in the area. This was the first attack on a Japanese-operated ship there this year.

Two Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers have been sent to the pirate-infested Gulf of Aden off Somalia to escort Japan-related commercial ships, including those operated by Japanese shipping firms.

The destroyers are expected to be on station by around March 30, several days earlier than planned.

Piracy has been rampant in the area, with 111 incidents reported last year. More than a dozen countries, including the United States, Russia, China and South Korea, have dispatched warships to the region to patrol against pirates.

While Somalia’s pirates are keeping up their attacks in one of the world’s most important shipping routes, they have found it harder to seize vessels in recent months, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

The Bahrain-based U.S. 5th Fleet, which patrols the region, said the decline in successful pirate attacks could be partly attributed to the increased number of warships in the area.

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