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PIRATES - OIL - MALAYSIA

Somali pirates hijack oil tanker

3 min

Pirates off the Somali coast in the Gulf of Aden hijacked a Malaysian oil tanker, the fourth ship to be taken by force in the area in a month. US-led coalition naval forces have been sent to their rescue.

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A Malaysian tanker carrying palm oil has been seized by pirates off the Somali coast -- the fourth ship to be hijacked in the Gulf of Aden in a month, a maritime watchdog group said Wednesday.

Noel Choong, head of the Kuala Lumpur-based International Maritime Bureau's (IMB) Piracy Reporting Centre, said the tanker with Malaysian and Filipino crew members on board was hijacked late Tuesday.

"The ship sent a distress call on Tuesday that it was hijacked and the signal was reported to us by another ship," Choong told AFP.

"We have already informed the (US-led) coalition naval forces who have dispatched a warship to the area," he added.

MISC Berhad, the company which owns the seized tanker MT Bunga Melati Dua said, the ship was hijacked at 1409 GMT on Tuesday.

"The incident occurred in the Gulf of Aden, between Somalia and Yemen," it said in a statement.

"The ship has 39 crew, of which 29 are Malaysians and 10 Filipinos. Bunga Melati Dua ... was fully laden with palm oil and heading towards (the Dutch port of) Rotterdam from Dumai, Sumatra (Indonesia) at the time of the incident," it said.

Choong said the tanker was now moving toward Somali territorial waters with the pirates on board.

Pirates usually demand a ransom from the owners, he added.

"For the safety of the crew, we cannot disclose too much but we call on the UN and the international community to take urgent steps and stop the worsening security situation in these waters," Choong said.

"We are very concerned with the current situation. We have been warning seafarers plying these waters on a regular basis as attacks are escalating."

Last week, a Thai cargo ship was hijacked off the Somali coast and a week before that, a Singapore-flagged vessel was attacked by pirates who fired a rocket-propelled grenade that landed on the ship but did not explode.

A coalition warship scared off the attackers and the vessel escaped unscathed.

On July 20, pirates seized the Stella Maris, a Japanese-owned bulk carrier, and demanded a ransom from the owners.

The waters off Nigeria and Somalia are the world's most dangerous hotspots with 24 attacks reported in Somalia and 18 in Nigeria between April and June, according to IMB figures.

Of the 24 Somali attacks, 19 occurred in the Gulf of Aden off the country's north coast.

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