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Islamists on trail of Somali pirates

Other News Materials 22 November 2008 01:53 (UTC +04:00)

Dozens of Somali Islamist insurgents stormed a port on Friday hunting the pirates behind the seizure of a Saudi supertanker that was the world's biggest hijack, a local elder said.

Separately, police in the capital Mogadishu said they had ambushed and shot dead 17 Islamist militants, in the latest illustration of the chaos in the Horn of Africa country that has fueled a dramatic surge in piracy.

The Sirius Star -- a Saudi vessel with a $100 million oil cargo and 25-man crew from the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Croatia, Poland and Britain -- is believed anchored offshore near Haradheere, about half-way up Somalia's long coastline.

"Saudi Arabia is a Muslim country and hijacking its ship is a bigger crime than other ships," Sheikh Abdirahim Isse Adow, an Islamist spokesman, told Reuters. "Haradheere is under our control and we shall do something about that ship."

Both the U.S. Navy and Dubai-based ship operator Vela International said they could not confirm a media report the hijackers were demanding a $25 million ransom. That would be the biggest demand to date by pirates who prey on boats in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean off Somalia.

A pirate identifying himself as Jamii Adam told the Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that negotiations were taking place with the ship's owners, saying the ransom demanded was not excessive but declining to give a figure.

He said it had cost the pirates $500,000 to seize the vessel. "We bore many costs to hijack it," he said.

Iran's biggest shipping firm said gunmen holding a Hong Kong-flagged ship carrying wheat and 25 crew members had set demands for its release, but it did not reveal what they were.

An upsurge of attacks this year has forced up shipping insurance costs, made some firms go round South Africa instead of via the Suez Canal, brought millions in ransom payments, and prompted an international naval response.

Pirates released a Greek-owned ship with 19 Romanian crew on board which had been hijacked in September, Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarers' Association said on Friday.

"The Liberian flagged MV Genious and her 19 Romanian crew have been released. She is now on the way to safe waters," he said. "I understand that some ransom was paid from Romania, but the amount is unknown," he told Reuters. There was no immediate comment from the Romanian authorities.

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