Page last updated at 11:00 GMT, Thursday, 21 August 2008 12:00 UK

More vessels seized off Somalia

Suspected pirates flee the scene near the Gem of Kilakari, in the Gulf of Aden on 8 August 2008 - chased off by the US Navy
Pirates are prevalent off the long, little-policed Somali coastline

Pirates have seized two vessels - a Japanese tanker and an Iranian bulk carrier - off the coast of Somalia, in the latest of a spate of hijackings.

The vessels were taken within an hour of each other on Thursday morning in the Gulf of Aden, a busy shipping lane close to the coast of lawless Somalia.

Noel Choong, of the International Maritime Bureau, said there had been no communication with either boat.

He said a multi-national naval force in the area had been informed.

The hijackings come just two days after a Malaysian oil tanker with 39 crew was captured in the same area.

'Stop this menace'

The Japanese-operated tanker and Iranian carrier were taken between 1000 and 1100 local time (0200-0300 GMT) on Thursday, Mr Choong told reporters.

20 July: Japanese-owned bulk carrier MV Stella Maris
Last week: Thai cargo ship, the MV Thor Star, and Nigerian tug boat, the MT Yenegoa Ocean
Tuesday: Malaysian palm oil tanker
Thursday: Japanese tanker and Iranian bulk carrier

The Japanese vessel is said to be carrying 19 crew, but the numbers aboard the Iranian ship are unknown.

He said a naval force - run by a US-led six-nation coalition - was in the area and an operation was "ongoing".

"In 48 hours, three ships have been attacked and hijacked by armed pirates. It is coming to a very dangerous stage," said Mr Choong, according to AP news agency.

"We urge the United Nations and the international community to take serious action to stop this menace."

The Gulf of Aden, which connects the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, is one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

But it runs past the coast of Somalia - which has not had a functioning national government since 1991 and has suffered continuing civil strife.

Including Thursday's attacks, six vessels have now been seized in this zone since 20 July.

Negotiations are said to be continuing to secure the release of the dozens of crew now being held.

The UN Security Council permits international warships to enter Somali waters to combat the problem - but the long coastline remains virtually unpoliced.

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