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Pirates seize 4th ship off Somalia

Published: 9:46PM Friday August 22, 2008 Source: Reuters

Pirates have seized another vessel, a German cargo ship, off the coast of Somalia in some of the world's most dangerous waters, the International Maritime Bureau said.
   
This brought the number of ship hijackings in the vital sealane linking Asia and Europe to a record four in 48 hours, sparking fears piracy there could worsen.
   
"There is no deterrent, so obviously for pirates, criminals and warlords, it's an easy way to make money," said Noel Choong, head of the bureau's piracy reporting centre in Kuala Lumpur.
   
"Nobody is going to catch you, no police ... you make so much money," he said. "It's unbelievable, more and more of these people go out and hijack ships."
   
He said only the United Nations could help stop the menace because Somalia has no central government.
   
Piracy is rife off Somalia, which has been mired in anarchy since warlords overthrew a dictator in 1991.

Maritime officials say at least 30 ships have been hijacked off the coast of the Horn of Africa nation so far this year.
   
Lavish lifestyle
   
Most of them brought ransoms of at least $10,000 ($NZ14,005), and in some cases much more. A lot of that money is now in the hands of pirates in the semi-autonomous northern region of Puntland.
   
Wealthy pirates have attained near-celebrity status in the area, buying expensive homes and cars and taking additional wives following this year's sharp increase in attacks at sea. 
In the latest case, pirates seized a German cargo ship with nine crew on board late on Thursday, Choong said.
   
Just hours earlier, Somali pirates hijacked an Iranian bulk carrier and a Japanese-operated tanker. A day before, they seized a palm oil tanker, Bunga Melati Dua, belonging to Malaysian national carrier MISC .
   
The four ships had a total of 96 crew on board.
   
Last week, Somali pirates hijacked two other ships, a Thai cargo ship, the MV Thor Star, and a Nigerian tug boat, the MT Yenegoa Ocean.
   
Local gunmen are also holding a Japanese-managed bulk carrier, the MV Stella Maris, that was hijacked on July 20. 

Choong said multi-national naval coalition forces had sent a warship to track the hijackers.
   
Naval forces from the United States, France, Germany, Pakistan, Britain and Canada are operating in the Gulf region.
   
MISC, the Malaysian shipping firm, said it had made first contact with its ship, which had 39 crew - 29 Malaysians and 10 Filipinos - on board.
   
"MISC was informed that there had been a casualty on board involving one of our Filipino crew members during the boarding of the vessel by the hijackers. We are unable to confirm this incident," it said. The company declined to comment.