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World News

Somali pirates hijack Yemeni cargo ship

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Somali pirates have hijacked a Yemeni ship loaded with steel in the Gulf of Aden, officials said on Tuesday, a day after local sources said the gang holding a Saudi supertanker were demanding a $15 million ransom.

A general view shows activity at Somali's northern port town of Bosasso, November 24, 2008. REUTERS/Abdiqani Hassan

Scores of attacks this year have brought the pirates millions of dollars in ransoms, hiked up shipping insurance costs, sent foreign navies rushing to the area, and left about a dozen boats with more than 200 hostages still in pirate hands.

Yemen’s official SABA news agency said the MV Adina was travelling from Mukalla port to the southern island of Socotra and had been due to dock on Nov. 20 with 507 tonnes of steel.

Yemeni security sources said the authorities were in touch with the pirates, who were demanding a $2 million ransom.

The sources said the vessel was owned by Yemeni shipping firm Abu Talal and was carrying seven crew -- three Somalis, two Yemenis and two Panamanians.

Andrew Mwangura, coordinator of the Kenya-based East African Seafarers’ Assistance Programme, told Reuters the Yemeni craft had been out of contact for about four days, so it was not known exactly when it had been seized.

Word of the latest attack off the anarchic Horn of Africa country came 10 days after gunmen from Somalia captured the Saudi supertanker in history’s biggest maritime hijacking.

THREAT OF FORCE

The Nov. 15 capture of the Sirius Star -- loaded with oil worth $100 million and 25 crew members from Britain, Poland, Croatia, Saudi Arabia and the Philippines -- has focused world attention on the Somali sea gangs. The Gulf of Aden links Europe to Asia and is one of the world’s busiest shipping corridors.

Following the hijack of an Iranian-chartered ship last week, a senior Iranian government official was quoted as saying Tehran could use force against the buccaneers if needed.

“Such issues should be confronted strongly,” Deputy Transport Minister Ali Taheri told the Ebtekar daily newspaper.

In the pirates’ most audacious attack yet, Saudi Arabia’s Sirius Star was captured 450 nautical miles southeast of Kenya.

At least some of the Islamist militants who control southern Somalia want to attack the pirates and free the Saudi vessel because it is a “Muslim” ship. But some Somalis say other Islamist militia want a cut of any ransom.

The Islamists, who have been fighting the Somali government and its Ethiopian military allies for two years, denounce piracy in public. But analysts say some factions are taking a share of spoils and using pirates to enable weapons deliveries by sea.

On Monday, Islamist spokesman Abdirahim Isse Adow -- whose men are in Haradheere where the ship is being held offshore -- said the pirates were demanding a $15 million ransom. Mwangura said his sources also confirmed the $15 million figure.

But a pirate on board the ship told the BBC by telephone that “no company” had yet made contact with them, only people claiming to be intermediaries who could not be trusted.

“We captured the ship for ransom, of course, but we don’t have anybody reliable to talk to directly about it,” said the pirate, who called himself Daybad. He said ship’s crew were “fine” and had been allowed to contact their families.

More than a dozen foreign warships are in the area, though analysts warn that the area the pirates operate in is enormous.

Additional reporting by Mohamed Sudam in Sanaa and Edmund Blair in Tehran

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