NAIROBI - Somali pirates hijacked a Japanese-owned chemical tanker in the latest seizure in the Horn of Africa's notoriously lawless waters .
Andrew Mwangura, head of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme, yesterday said shipping sources in Somalia and Japan had confirmed the vessel had been seized eight nautical miles offshore on Sunday morning.
"We are trying to establish what demands they have, and how many people were on board.
"There are five well-organised pirate groups operating in Somali waters. We know the one which took this boat," Mwangura said.
An official from the International Maritime Bureau's Piracy Reporting Centre in Kuala Lumpur identified the vessel as the 12000 deadweight-tonne Golden Nory. "She was taken into Somali waters, and we haven't heard anything from her since," the official said.
Japanese news agency Kyodo said the tanker had 23 non-Japanese crew on board, made up of its South Korean captain and South Korean, Filipino and Myanmar nationals.
A cargo ship went missing off Somalia last week, bringing the total of vessels believed to be held by pirates to five. The other three boats are two Tanzanian fishing vessels and a ship from Taiwan.
The waters off Somalia, which has been in anarchy and without central government since 1991, are considered one of the world's most dangerous because of a proliferation of pirates.
Attackers generally use speedboats to surround and board vessels, often justifying their actions as measures against illegal fishing and toxic dumping.
Mwangura said boats with no business in Somalia should stay away, while those who have to go there, such as contractors for the UN World Food Programme, should only sail with escorts.
"Things are not good. We advise ships not going to Somalia to stay 200 nautical miles off the coast," he said.
Piracy dropped last year during the six months the south was ruled by a hardline Islamist movement. But incidents have risen since it was toppled from Mogadishu. - Reuters