February 26, 2007 / 9:05 AM / in 12 years

U.S. warship heads for vessel hijacked off Somalia

NAIROBI, Feb 26 (Reuters) - A U.S. warship is approaching the area off the Horn of Africa where Somali pirates have anchored a hijacked ship carrying U.N. food aid, a U.N. spokeswoman said on Monday.

Gunmen boarded the Kenyan-owned MV Rozen on Sunday, taking hostage its six Kenyan and six Sri Lankan crew after intercepting the freighter by speedboat.

It was the third hijacking of a ship hired to carry relief supplies by the U.N.’s World Food Programme (WFP) in two years.

WFP spokeswoman Penny Ferguson said the world body understood the vessel was now anchored off Bargal, a small port in Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region.

"We also understand a U.S. warship is heading to that area but that it is still in international waters," Ferguson said. "There has been no contact yet from the pirates and our biggest concern remains for the safety of the crew."

The ship, chartered by WFP from Mombasa-based Motaku Shipping Agency, was seized after unloading 1,800 metric tonnes of food aid at two northern Somali ports.

Pirates had vanished from Somali waters while a battle for control of the nation raged on land. Sunday’s hijacking was the first reported since the interim government and its Ethiopian allies routed Islamists from Mogadishu in January.

The Islamists, who ruled much of southern Somalia for six months through strict sharia law, had cracked down on piracy, in part to protect their weapons’ shipments.

The pirates, often in the pay of warlords on land, had made Somalia’s coastline one of the most dangerous in the world.

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