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Last Updated: Monday, 29 October 2007, 16:54 GMT
Japanese ship hijacked in Africa
Somalia map
Pirates have hijacked a Japanese ship off the East African coast - the latest in a series of similar incidents near the war-torn country of Somalia.

The vessel, thought to be a chemical tanker with a crew of South Koreans, Filipinos and Burmese, was seized in the Gulf of Aden early on Sunday.

Officials say they are trying to find out what the pirates' demands are.

The area is notorious for piracy - of 16 reported hijackings worldwide this year, 11 were off the Somali coast.

Lawless waters

The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) said it had received a distress call from the vessel near to the remote Yemeni island of Socotra on Sunday morning.

"We tried to contact the vessel, but there was absolutely no contact," the IMB's Cyrus Mody told BBC News.

He said coalition forces in the area were contacted and they confirmed the ship had been taken into Somali territorial waters.

There are thought to be 23 crew members on board the vessel, none of whom is Japanese.

The incident comes two weeks after a cargo ship was hijacked on its way to Mombasa in Kenya.

The IMB said there was still no information on the safety of that crew.

Analysts say Somali waters are increasingly lawless and merchant ships are advised to stay 320km (200 miles) from its shores.

The IMB rates Somalia as the second most high risk country for piracy in the world after Indonesia.

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