Page last updated at 11:56 GMT, Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Somali pirates hijack two ships off East African coast

The St James Park, pic courtesy of Derek Lilley
The St James Park issued a distress call on Monday night saying it had been attacked by pirates

Somali pirates have captured two ships with 45 crew off the East African coast, officials say.

A UK-flagged chemical tanker, the St James Park, was reportedly captured in the Gulf of Aden on Monday while on its way to Thailand from Spain.

Its 26 crew hail from Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Georgia, India, Turkey and the Philippines.

The Navios Apollon, a Panamanian-flagged Greek cargo ship with 19 crew, was hijacked north of the Seychelles.

The 50,000-tonne carrier - which had been sailing from the US state of Florida to India - was boarded on Monday by 10 men in speedboats, according to the Greek coastguard.

Pirate attacks have been common off the Somali coast and international navies have been deployed to counter them.

'No contact'

The St James Park issued a distress call on Monday night saying it had been attacked by pirates, said the International Maritime Bureau.

Somali Foreign Minister Abdul Rahman Jangeli: "It's a lucrative business"

The tanker, which was carrying a cargo of chemicals used to make plastics, had changed course and was now heading towards the northern coast of Somalia, said Andrew Mwangura of the Seafarers Assistance Programme.

"It is expected to arrive there later this evening," Mr Mwangura told AFP news agency.

The ship's owner-operators told the BBC they were working for "the early and safe release of our crew members on board".

A spokesman for Zodiac Maritime Agencies said the company had had no contact with the St James Park or the pirates but was in contact with the European naval force in the area.

The waters around Somalia are among the most dangerous in the world.

Correspondents say the upsurge in piracy in the region is a consequence of the failure to find a solution to Somalia's continuing political disarray.

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Philadelphia Inquirer 2 ships, 1,000 miles apart, are seized by pirates - 8 hrs ago
Times Online Pirates hijack British tanker in sea safety zone - 16 hrs ago
Sydney Morning Herald Somali pirates end year with a flurry - 20 hrs ago
Melbourne Age Somali pirates hijack three more vessels - 21 hrs ago Somali pirates seize tanker, cargo ship - 23 hrs ago

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