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Pirates hijack another ship off Somalia

Bosasso, Somalia , September 4, 2008

Somali pirates have hijacked yet another ship and are taking it and a French yacht with two French nationals onboard to their remote coastal base, a regional government official said on Thursday.

Gunmen from the Horn of Africa nation are currently holding about 10 vessels for ransom at Eyl, a lawless former fishing outpost now used by gangs behind a sharp rise in attacks at sea.

"The pirates are sailing to Eyl with the French yacht and another Egyptian ship that they hijacked last night," Hassan Muse Alore, the minister for minerals in northern Somalia's Puntland region, told Reuters by telephone from Eyl.

He had no details on the Egyptian ship, but said he was visiting the area to check on reports that another of the hijacked vessels -- an Iranian bulk carrier -- had arms onboard.

"We are now with local elders and still investigating the matter," he said, without elaborating.

Heavily armed gangs have seized at least 30 vessels so far this year in the Gulf of Aden, making the shipping lanes between Somalia and Yemen the most dangerous in the world.

Late on Tuesday, pirates seized a French yacht with two French citizens onboard, the French Foreign Ministry said. It said a UN Security Council resolution in June gave France the right to pursue the pirates into Somali waters, but that it had to consider the best way to save the hostages.

In April, French commandos launched a helicopter raid to arrest six Somali pirates after they freed the 30-strong crew of a luxury yacht they had hijacked days earlier.

French navy spokesman Commander Christophe Prazuck said on Thursday the country's military forces based in neighbouring Djibouti would readily intervene but that the safety of the captives was most important.

"The frigate "Courbet" is on location in the Gulf of Aden ... as part of the multi-national Task Force 150 made up of 12 vessels that are patrolling in the Gulf of Aden to deter piracy," he said.

"One thing at a time. Today we have to remain discreet ... in order to ensure the safety of our fellow countrymen."    

Somali pirates are demanding a ransom of more than $9 million to free two Malaysian tankers, a Japanese-managed bulk carrier and a Nigerian tug boat held captive near Eyl.

Somali regional officials say the hefty ransoms paid out by ship owners are fuelling corruption and an explosion of piracy offshore that they are unable to contain.

"We have no power to control the multiplying numbers of pirates," Ahmed Saed Ow-Nur, Puntland's minister for fisheries and marine resources, told Reuters.

"Even some of the Puntland police are involved in piracy, because they can make a hell of a lot of money," he said. - Reuters




Tags: Egypt | Pirates | Somali | ransom |

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