Somali pirates seize another two ships

Somali pirates have seized another two cargo ships in the East African nation's lawless waters, bringing the total number of ships hijacked this week to three, a maritime official said Friday, reported dpa.

Andrew Mwangura, head of the East Africa Seafarers' Assistance Programme, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa that the German MV Lehmann Timber and the Turkish MV Arean were captured on Wednesday.

German shipping firm Lehmann, which owns the MV Lehmann Timber, confirmed the ship had been taken.

There were 15 crew members on board from Russia, Ukraine, Estonia and Burma, the company said.

It was not clear whether contact had been made with the pirates or if a ransom had been demanded.

Mwangura said the two ships were captured in the same area as Dutch cargo ship MV Amiya Scan, which was seized on Sunday along with its nine Russian and Filipino crew.

Piracy is rife off the Somali coast, which is close to key shipping routes. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) says 31 hijackings and attempted hijackings were reported last year.

The number of hijackings this year is already approaching this figure.

The most high-profile case in recent months involved the capture of a luxury French yacht in April. French troops rescued the hostages and captured six of the pirates, although another six are believed to have escaped.

The IMB on Wednesday issued an alert for the region, warning that pirates were using automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades to stop ships. The body has also advised vessels not scheduled to call on Somali ports keep at least 200 nautical miles from the Somali coast.

Somalia has been in a state of anarchy since the ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Constant inter-clan clashes have left thousands dead and around one million displaced.

The transitional government is engaged in a brutal battle with Islamic insurgents and has no effective naval force that can stop the pirates.

However, France and the United States, backed by Britain, are trying to force through a UN Security Council resolution allowing foreign warships to enter Somali waters and battle the pirates.

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