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Sunday, 11 August, 2002, 16:21 GMT 17:21 UK
Royal Navy search for 'hijacked ship'
Somalia location map
The ship is said to have been seized off Bossasso
The Royal Navy has launched a search for a British ship reportedly hijacked off the north-east coast of Somalia.

A helicopter from the frigate HMS Cumberland scoured the Somali coast for signs of the vessel, which is said to be an oil tanker with seven crew members on board.

A spokesman for the British Foreign Office told BBC News Online that no sign of the vessel had been found and it was trying to confirm whether a hijacking had actually taken place.

According to Somali Radio HornAfrik armed militiamen stormed the ship in an area notorious for hijackings and are demanding a ransom of $1m (650,000) for its return.

It said the number of hijackers involved was unclear.

'Weapons'

The Foreign Office spokesman said: "HMS Cumberland was in the area and has put up a helicopter to do a search - but nothing has been discovered."

The Ministry of Defence said the frigate had been nearby as part of Britain's maritime contribution to the war against terrorism.


Ships anchoring near or passing close to the Somali coast should note they will, repeat, will be seized

International Maritime Bureau
Residents of the Somali port city of Bossasso, close to the area where the ship was reportedly taken, want militiamen stopped from seizing boats for ransom.

A report released by the International Maritime Bureau said the waters off the country are a haven for pirates.

Deputy director Captain Jayant Abhyankar said: "With weapons and ammunition openly flowing into the country, despite a United Nations arms embargo, Somalia's national waters are among the most dangerous in the world."

And following the hijacking of a cargo ship on 30 July it warned crews: "Ships anchoring near or passing close to the Somali coast should note they will, repeat, will be seized by one of the warring factions from shore."

It said ships should remain at least 50 miles, and if possible 100 miles, from shore, with radio communications kept to a minimum to avoid detection.

Clan warfare

The rise of militias in Somalia follows the collapse of its central government in 1991, when President Siad Barre was overthrown by opposing clans.

HMS Cumberland
A helicopter from HMS Cumberland scoured the coast
Those responsible failed to agree on a replacement and plunged the country of seven million people into lawlessness and clan warfare.

In 1992 US Marines landed near Mogadishu, ahead of a UN peacekeeping force sent to restore order and safeguard relief supplies.

The peacekeepers left in 1995, having failed to achieve their mission.

Warlords now rule many areas and it is thought the resulting battles, famine and disease have led to the deaths of up to one million people.

Two weeks ago 12 people were killed, and more than 35 injured, in fighting between rival warlords in Medina, a residential area of the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Andrew Harding
"It was taken by three or four small boats in an act of piracy on the high seas"

Politics

Terrorist haven?

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See also:

12 Mar 02 | Country profiles
11 Jul 02 | Africa
17 Jun 02 | Africa
24 May 02 | Africa
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