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Monday, 12 August, 2002, 09:17 GMT 10:17 UK
Somali pirates 'demand $1m for ship'
Somalia location map
The ship is said to have been seized off Bossasso
Armed militia men are reportedly holding an oil tanker and its six crew hostage in Somalia, demanding a $1m ransom.

A helicopter from British Royal Navy frigate HMS Cumberland scoured the coast near the Somali port town of Bossasso on Sunday after reports that the vessel was British-registered.

But British maritime officials say they have had no reports of a missing British ship and it is thought there may be confusion with a North Korean ship that went missing earlier this month.

HMS Cumberland
A helicopter from HMS Cumberland scoured the coast
The tanker was seized nine days ago and has been moored off the coast of Puntland, a breakaway region in the northwest of the country, aid workers in Somalia told AFP news agency.

They said the pirates were members of a powerful clan and that they had originally demanded $300,000 (200,000) for the ship's return before increasing the ransom.

However, the deputy director of the International Maritime Bureau, Captain Abhyankar, said it was possible the incident was being confused.

Ransom negotiations are already underway between a North Korean ship's owners and the pirates. The six crew members are from another former Soviet republic, Georgia.

The waters off Somalia are some of the most dangerous in the world, full of sharks and pirates. On land, anarchy and confusion reign.

The country is without a central government, and ruled instead by rival warlords, hence, it seems, the confusion over this latest act of piracy, BBC correspondent Andrew Harding said.

Piracy warnings

The Ministry of Defence told BBC News Online that the HMS Cumberland had completed its search and was now continuing with its duties as part of the war against terror.

If confirmed, the seizure would be the third off Puntland in less than a month and follows the payment of a $400,000 (260,000) ransom by the owners of a Cyprus-registered vessel.

Following the hijacking of a cargo ship on 30 July the IMB 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.

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.

Jayant Abhyankar, International Maritime Bureau
"In the last 11 years there's been exponential growth in these types of attacks."
The BBC's Andrew Harding
"It was taken by three or four small boats in an act of piracy on the high seas"


Terrorist haven?

See also:

03 Jul 02 | Africa
24 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
24 May 02 | Africa
12 Mar 02 | Country profiles
11 Jul 02 | Africa
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