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Lifeboats spotted after Somali pirate-held boat sinks

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An African Union-United Nations Information Support Team picture of Mogadishu's Lido beach on April 15. Lifeboats from a hijacked ship held by Somali pirates that sank last week have been spotted onshore, naval officials said Thursday, raising hopes that some of the 15-man crew may have survived. (AU-UN IST/AFP/File)

Lifeboats from a hijacked ship held by Somali pirates that sank last week have been spotted onshore, naval officials said Thursday, raising hopes that some of the 15-man crew may have survived.

The Malaysian-flagged MV Albedo container ship, seized by Somali pirates in November 2010, sank in rough seas on Saturday night, where it was moored a short distance from the coastline.

John Steed, head of the Secretariat for Regional Maritime Security, said it was believed pirates from another nearby hijacked fishing boat tried to move the hostages from the sinking Albedo.

"Unfortunately, the status of the crew of MV Albedo remains uncertain at this time," Steed said in a statement Thursday.

Even if some of the crew have survived it is likely they are still being held captive, since pirates control the coastline. They hold some hostages onshore while keeping others onboard the boats.

The Albedo, held for more than two and a half years, had suffered "significant mechanical and structural issues", Steed added, which combined with high seas caused it to sink.

The European Union naval mission (EU NAVFOR), whose warships operate an anti-piracy patrol off the Somali coast, said it has spotted two lifeboats onshore, although so far no sign of life has been seen.

"During the aerial search, EU Naval Force Maritime Patrol Aircraft sighted two lifeboats on a Somali beach approximately 14 miles (26 kilometres) north of the position of the Albedo," the EU mission said in a statement.

"No members of the MV Albedo crew or pirates were sighted in or near the lifeboats."

The Albedo had more than 20 crew from several nations including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Iran on board when it was captured, but seven Pakistani sailors were released last August.

Pirate attacks have been launched as far as 3,655 kilometres (2,277 miles) from the Somali coast in the Indian Ocean.

But in recent years, international naval patrols from China, Europe, United States and Russia have protected shipping and fought off pirate vessels, with the rate of attacks tumbling by 80 percent from 2011 to 2012, according to EUNAVFOR.