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Last Updated: Friday, 19 August 2005, 18:36 GMT 19:36 UK
Somali pirates 'not looting aid'
Ruins left by the tsunami
The ship is carrying food for Somali victims of the tsunami
The UN has denied reports from local residents that pirates who seized a ship carrying tsunami aid to Somalia have started looting the food.

"Our contacts in the region assure us that the vast bulk... of rice aboard the MV Semlow has not been taken ashore," the UN's Robert Hausser said.

Weeks of talks have failed to secure the release of the ship and its crew.

Meanwhile, gunmen have seized three fishing vessels in the latest incident of piracy off the Somali coast.

Some 40 crew members were being held hostage, a local militia leader who is working to secure their release told the BBC.

Earlier this week the International Maritime Board warned of an alarming increase in piracy in Somali waters and has urged shipping to avoid the area.

New demands

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) appealed to Somalia's transitional government to press for its crew's release.

"This has gone on too long," Mr Hausser said.

The ship, carrying 850 metric tons of rice, was captured off Haradere at the end of June east of the capital, Mogadishu, as it sailed from Mombasa in Kenya.

It had food for victims of last year's Indian Ocean tsunami, near the port of Bossaso.

The crew comprises eight Kenyans, a Tanzanian and their Sri Lankan captain.

A deal was done two weeks ago, but last week the captors issued fresh demands, according to the director of the Mombasa-based Mokatu shipping agency, Karim Kudrati.

The hijackers had initially demanded $500,000 in ransom, but WFP - which chartered the ship - says no money was paid.

WFP provides an average of 3,000 tons of aid a month to 275,000 people in Somalia.

But its work is hampered by concerns over security.

The country has had no functioning national government since 1991.

Somali hostage deadline expires
09 Aug 05 |  Africa
WFP ultimatum over Somali ship
12 Jul 05 |  Africa
Pirates hijack tsunami aid ship
30 Jun 05 |  Africa

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