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Somali pirates demand $1 mn ransom for Japanese ship

By Xinhua

Nairobi : Somali pirates, who seized a Japanese chemical tanker six weeks ago, are demanding $1 million as ransom, a regional maritime official said here Monday.

Andrew Mwangura, coordinator of the Seafarers Assistance Program (SAP), said the pirates have also threatened to kill the 23-man crew unless the ransom is paid.

“The pirates are demanding $1 million ransom and I am not certain whether the tanker’s owners would pay the money,” Mwangura told Xinhua by telephone from Mombasa.

The 12,000 deadweight-ton tanker, Golden Nori, was sailing from Singapore to Israel with a cargo of chemicals when the pirates attacked it in October.

The ship’s distress calls were picked up by US warships patrolling off the coast of Somalia who fired on the pirates’ speedboats, sinking two.

The warships followed the kidnapped chemical tanker into Somali coastal waters and have trapped the Golden Nori close to the Somali port of Bossaso, preventing supplies from getting to the ship.

The Japanese tanker is the last ship remaining in captivity off the Somali coastline after the Comoran-flagged cargo MV Al Marjan was released last month.

A US-led multilateral taskforce is conducting counter-piracy operations off the volatile Horn of Africa.

The International Maritime Board has warned of an alarming increase in piracy in Somali waters and has urged ships to avoid the area.

There have been at least 26 attacks by pirates this year off Somalia’s 3,700 km of unpatrolled coastline.

The attacks stopped in the second half of 2006 during six months of strict rule by Islamists, who were ousted by Ethiopian and Somali government troops at the end of the year.

Somalia’s transitional government has little control over the country, which has been wracked with violence since former ruler Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991.