Web blogs all over the Internet are continuing to buzz about an Iranian ship that was hijacked last August by Somali pirates and which Russian sources warned contained a dirty bomb intended for Israel.


The hijacking passed largely unnoticed in the mainstream media, save a brief mention in the news on August 22 that reported that three vessels – Iranian, Japanese and German – and their 57 crew members were hijacked by pirates in the Gulf of Aden near Somalia. Several pirates died after they forced open part of the cargo.


The waterway connects the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. Somalia, host to the longest coastline in Africa (1,880 miles), is an international piracy and terrorist hotspot. Foreign vessels are often seized by pirates in the area, who hold the ships and their crews for ransom.


According to its manifest, the MV Iran Devant had departed Nanjing, China on July 28 and was headed to Rotterdam to deliver 42,500 tons of iron ore and "industrial products" to an unidentified "German client."  But the Iranian bulk carrier with 29 crew members, owned and operated by the U.S.-sanctioned Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), was apparently transporting cargo considerably more significant than the average contraband.


The 40 pirates, armed with AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) brought the ship to Eyl, a fishing village in northeastern Somalia, according to numerous bloggers. There a larger contingent of pirates took control of the vessel – 50 on board and 50 patrolling on the beach. 


Initial attempts to inspect the ship's seven cargo containers failed. The pirates could not break into the holds and the crew swore they did not have access codes to the locks. The captain and engineer of the vessel evaded answering questions about the contents of the holds, despite threats by the pirates to blow up the ship. They first said the containers held crude oil, but then changed the story to say there were "minerals" in the holds. 


When at last the pirates succeeded in opening one of the containers, they allegedly discovered packets of what they later reported to be "a powdery fine sandy soil." The pirates who had any exposure to the powder were reportedly struck down by illness and within days began to exhibit strange symptoms, including skin burns and hair loss. Sixteen of them died.  Andrew Mwangura, director of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Program, was quoted by the South Africa Sunday Times in a September 28 interview, "There is something very wrong about that ship."


The vessel was released by the pirates on October 10, announced the IRISL public relations office, "after seven weeks of negotiations with Somali pirates." All 29 members of the crew were reported safe. Iran criticized world powers for its indifference toward the lack of security in international waters. IRISL, which is run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, added in its statement that the vessel was sailing towards international waters and it is not clear where the ship has gone since the report.


Russian Intelligence: Ship Was a Dirty Bomb Sent to Israel

U.S. and Israeli intelligence officials maintained a tight-lipped silence on the alleged incident. However, Russian intelligence sources reportedly said the ship was "an enormous floating dirty bomb, intending to detonate after exiting the Suez Canal at the eastern end of the Mediterranean and in proximity to the coastal cities of Israel.


"The entire cargo of radioactive sand," said the Russian sources, " [was] obtained by Iran from China (the latter buys desperately needed oil from the former) and sealed in containers which, when the charges on the ship are set off after the crew took to the boats, will be blasted high into the air where prevailing winds will push the highly dangerous and radioactive cloud ashore."


Several military web blogs have noted that had the ship's crew succeeded in reaching Israel's coastal waters with their deadly cargo, it would have been quite easy to escape the vessel in small boats and then detonate explosives on the vessel. The radioactive powder, which would have been blown into the air, would have been carried by the wind straight to Israel.

'Logically Not Reliable, But Nothing Impossible in the Middle East'

Dr. Ephraim Kam, deputy director of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), told Israel National News that the entire incident could easily have been a fiction -- or not. "Nothing is impossible in this region," said Kam, an IDF Colonel (res.) and former deputy director of the Research Division in the IDF's Military Intelligence, "but logically [the report] doesn't seem to be very reliable."

The reason, he said, is that such an attack on Israel would cost the Iranians dearly -- and he said they know it.

"First of all, because it could fail, and this would be the worst thing for them.  I think that if at all, the timing is very bad for them, while they are trying to acquire their own nuclear weapons, when there is international pressure on them on that issue… It could give Israel the best excuse to attack their nuclear facilities.


"Also, if such an operation is successful, the outcome could be an Israeli strategic attack against the Iranians, which could be very costly for the Islamic Republic.  Since the Iranians believe that Israel does have a nuclear arsenal, they have to take into account that Israel would respond by nuclear attack," he pointed out.


"If it is true, this incident could give Israel the best pretext to attack an Iranian nuclear site," said Kam. "Rationally, I tend to think it is no more than a good story."


Israeli government officials could not be reached for comment.