NAIROBI, Kenya — Somali pirates took a run at a luxury American cruise ship steaming across the Gulf of Aden with hundreds of well-heeled tourists, but the bandits were outrun in minutes when the ship's captain sped away.
Six bandits, riding in two skiffs, fired rifle shots at the gleaming ship. The captain of the M/S Nautica gunned the engine and sped away, a spokesman for the company said Tuesday.
The incident added a new dimension to the piracy scourge as NATO foreign ministers grappled for solutions at a meeting in Brussels and the United Nations extended an international piracy-fighting mandate for another year.
The potential for massive ransom payments from the families of hundreds of rich tourists may encourage similar attempts, especially after the successful capture of a Ukrainian cargo ship laden with tanks and a Saudi oil tanker carrying $100-million in crude.
The brazen attack also raises questions: What was a cruise ship doing in the pirate-infested waters of the Gulf of Aden? How many such targets are sailing these seas, and how can they be protected?
Even the pirates' motives were in question: They could simply have been testing the defenses of the massive ship, rather than making a real effort to hijack it.
Sunday's attack on the M/S Nautica, which was reported Tuesday, comes several weeks after a NATO mission served mainly to underscore the impotence of the world community. A handful of Western ships can do little to prevent attacks in a vast sea, and without the right to board hijacked vessels, they can only watch as the booty is towed to port.
"It is very fortunate that the liner managed to escape," said Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center in Malaysia, urging all ships to remain vigilant.
Some of the world's leading cruise companies said Tuesday they are considering changing their itineraries to avoid going near the coast of Somalia following news of the weekend attack.
Cunard's public relations manager Eric Flounders said the company has two liners, the Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria, scheduled to go through the Gulf of Aden in March but added the company "will obviously consider changing the itinerary" should the situation not improve.