Page last updated at 17:36 GMT, Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Hijacked tanker's captain 'dies'

Pirate (file photo)
Pirate attacks continue despite the presence of naval forces

The captain of a ship seized earlier this week off the Seychelles has died of gunshot wounds he suffered during the hijacking, Somali pirates say.

They say the captain, whose name is not yet known, died on Tuesday.

The MV Theresa VIII, a Singaporean-operated tanker with a crew of 28 North Koreans - was seized about 180 nautical miles north-west of the Seychelles.

The news comes as Somali pirates attacked a US-flagged ship for the second time.

Crew from the MV Maersk Alabama had returned fire after pirates had fired automatic weapons at the ship, about 350 nautical miles east of Somalia, the EU's naval force said. There were no casualties reported.

A patrol aircraft flew from neighbouring Djibouti to the area. The MV Maersk Alabama's captain was held hostage for five days in April.

The attack came a day after pirates released a Spanish fishing boat and its crew after holding it for six weeks.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said on Tuesday that the pirates had abandoned the Alakrana tuna boat and that all 36 crew on board were "safe and sound".

The pirates earlier told reporters they were leaving the ship after being promised a ransom of $3.5m (£2.1m), although there was no government confirmation of this.

Upsurge in attacks

"The captain of the chemical tanker died last night from gunshot wounds he got during the hijack," a pirate who identified himself as Muhammad told Reuters news agency on Wednesday.

BBC map

"The ship is headed for Harardhere with the dead captain," he said, in an apparent reference to a coastal town in central Somalia.

So far there there have been no independent confirmation of the captain's death. His nationality is not yet known.

It is rare for Somali pirates to harm their hostages, who are usually released once a ransom is paid.

The tanker, whose owner is based in the Virgin Islands, had been sailing to the Kenyan port of Mombasa, but changed course after the hijacking.

More than 10 ships and 200 hostages are currently being held by pirates operating in waters off Somalia.

Many of the pirates began as fishermen and say they are stopping illegal foreign fishing boats stealing Somali fish, BBC international development correspondent Mark Doyle reports.

The upsurge in piracy in the region is a consequence of the failure to find a solution to Somalia's political disputes, our correspondent adds.

The weak central government faces an Islamist insurgency and parts of the country have broken away to form autonomous regions.

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