Page last updated at 03:09 GMT, Thursday, 8 April 2010 04:09 UK

Hijacked Korea oil tanker 'anchors near Somalia'

Somali pirate (file image)
Piracy has made Somali waters among the world's most dangerous

South Korea says a super-tanker hijacked by pirates in the Indian Ocean has anchored about 7km (four miles) off the coast of Somalia.

The foreign ministry in Seoul said the 300,000-ton ship, laden with crude oil, arrived late on Wednesday.

The South Korean news agency Yonhap reported that the owner of the ship had made contact with the hijackers.

It said the crew of the tanker, which is being shadowed by a South Korean warship, were still safe.

"The pirates have told the navy unit through the ship's captain that all crew members are currently safe, but their lives will be at risk if the navy ship tried to close in on the Samho Dream," the foreign ministry said in a press release reported by Yonhap.

Yonhap said the South Korean owner of the ship, Samho Shipping Company, has also made its first contact with the pirates as the hijackers demanded direct talks with the ship's owner.

"The government will continue to assist (the ship's owner) to secure an early and safe release of the ship and its crew," the ministry said.

The 300,000-tonne Samho Dream, which was on its way from Iraq to the United States, has 24 crew on board.

Pirates targeting ships off the coast of Somalia made tens of millions of dollars in ransom payments last year.

South Korea is one of several Asian nations that have an anti-piracy warship patrolling Somali waters to guard against hijackings. Western navies are also trying to protect ships against pirate attack.

The first successful hijacking of a so-called Very Large Crude Carrier was of the Saudi-owned Sirius Star in late 2008.

Another VLCC, the Maran Centaurus, was taken last November and held for two months before a ransom estimated at between $5.5m and $7m was paid.

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