NAIROBI - Somali pirates have hijacked a Yemen cargo ship
in the Gulf of Aden, a regional maritime official said on Tuesday,
the day after pirates who seized a Saudi supertanker cut their
ransom demand to $15 million.
Andrew Mwangura, coordinator of the Kenya-based East African
Seafarers' Assistance Programme, identified the Yemeni vessel as
the MV Amani. No other details were immediately available.
Word of the latest attack at sea came 10 days after gunmen
from Somalia seized a Saudi supertanker in the largest hijacking
in maritime history.
The Nov. 15 capture of the Sirius Star -- with $100 million
of oil and 25 crew members from Britain, Poland, Croatia, Saudi
Arabia and the Philippines -- focused world attention on rampant
piracy off the failed Horn of Africa state.
Scores of attacks this year have brought millions of dollars
of ransom payments, 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 pirates' hands.
Following the hijack of an Iranian-chartered ship last week,
Iran's deputy transport minister was quoted as saying Tehran
could use force if necessary against pirates.
"Iran's view is that such issues should be confronted
strongly," Deputy Transport Minister Ali Taheri was quoted as
saying by the Ebtekar daily.
The pirate gang had originally been quoted as wanting $25
million to release the Sirius Star, which was captured far from
Somali waters about 450 nautical miles southeast of Kenya.
But Islamist spokesman Abdirahim Isse Adow, whose men are in
the Haradheere area where the ship is being held offshore, said
the demand went down. "Middlemen have given a $15 million ransom
figure for the Saudi ship. That is the issue now," he said.
Mwangura said his sources were confirming a reduced $15
However, a pirate on board the ship told the BBC by
telephone that "no company" had yet made contact with the
hijackers, only people claiming to be intermediaries.
"These are people who cannot be trusted. We don't want to
make contact with anyone who we can't trust," said the pirate,
who called himself Daybad.
"We captured the ship for ransom, of course, but we don't
have anybody reliable to talk to directly about it." He said
that once real negotiations began they would seek "the usual
asking price" but denied reports that they had been asking for a
ransom of up to $25 million.
"That doesn't exist, there is nothing of the sort and we are
warning radio stations and other people about broadcasting these
unreliable stories," he said.
Residents say pirates have taken the ship further out to
about 100 km (62 miles) off the coast of central Somalia after
Islamist militia poured into the town in search of the pirates.
Adow, who represents the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), says
his men are out to confront the pirates and free the Sirius Star
because it is a "Muslim" ship. But residents say other Islamist
militia want a cut of any ransom payment.
The pirate Daybad said the ship's crew were "fine" and had
been allowed to contact their families, a fact also confirmed to
the BBC by the Sirius Star's Polish captain.
"I would say there is not a reason for complaints," the
The capture of the ship has stirred up the small dusty
harbour of Haradheere into a frenzy of activity, witnesses say,
with armed men riding back and forth on cars all over town.
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.
Senior Somali officials are also on the take from piracy,
diplomats in the region say. The government denies that.
Piracy has flourished off Somalia thanks to chaos onshore.
The nation of 9 million people has suffered perpetual civil
conflict since 1991 when warlords toppled a dictator.
More than a dozen foreign warships are in the area, though
analysts say the range Somali pirates operate in are too vast to
ever properly control.