Somali pirates kill Syrian captain, ship rescued

* Captain refused to turn ship away from port

* Three crew members injured

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MOGADISHU, Sept 24 (Reuters) - Somali pirates boarded a Panama-flagged ship heading for Mogadishu on Thursday and killed its Syrian captain after he refused to turn the vessel away from the port, officials said.

"The pirates killed the captain after he refused to turn the ship. Usually, we send police when commercial ships draw near the port but the pirates were already on board and opened fire injuring one policeman," Abdiasis Hassan, minister for ports, told Reuters.

African Union peacekeeping mission (AMISOM) troops and Somali police rescued the ship, officials said.

"The captain was a Syrian and his body is at the port now. The ship's name is Barwaqo," Ahmed Abdi, a port official, told Reuters.

Three crew members were also injured, he said.

"Our soldiers opened fire on two boats that were trying to hijack the ship," Barigye Ba-Hoku, AMISOM's spokesman, told Reuters. "We got messages asking for our help and we helped to rescue the ship."

Piracy has surged off the Somali coast in recent years where sea gangs continue to defy foreign navies patrolling the vast shipping lanes linking Asia and Europe.

There has been a relative lull in Indian Ocean waters in the past few months because of monsoon winds but analysts fear the number of pirate attacks will rise again soon.

Piracy attacks around the world more than doubled to 240 from 114 during the first six months of the year, according to the International Maritime Bureau's Piracy Reporting Centre. (Reporting by Abdi sheikh and Mohamed Ahmed; Editing by Helen Nyambura-Mwaura and Elizabeth Fullerton)