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Hong Kong ship hijacked by pirates

Published: 4:17AM Wednesday November 19, 2008 Source: Reuters

A Hong Kong-flagged ship loaded with wheat bound for Iran was hijacked by Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden, maritime officials said, the latest raid in the Horn of Africa's perilous waters.
   
The Delight, with 25 crew members on board, was captured off the Yemen coast at around 0600 GMT and is currently sailing towards Somalia, an official at Hong Kong's Maritime Rescue Co-ordination Centre said.
   
"We know the ship is going to somewhere in Somalia," said the official, who declined to be identified because he is not authorised to speak to the media.
   
"We are in contact with the company security officer who is in contact with the ship," he added, but said he did not know of any ransom or other demands.
   
In Bahrain, a US Navy spokeswoman said the Hong Kong-registered ship belonged to Iran's state shipping lines.
   
The raid came after a super tanker with a $100 million ($NZ180 million) cargo was seized by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean at the weekend, mocking a rush by NATO and the European Union to control piracy problems in one of the world's busiest shipping routes.
   
Nearly two decades of conflict in Somalia have left it awash with arms and without a strong central authority to enforce the rule of law. 
   
Guns and grenades
   
Using larger mother ships to increase their reach, the heavily armed pirates usually pull up on either side of a target in speedboats and board, firing guns or even rocket-propelled grenades just over the bridge if the captain tries to escape.
   
Ship owners are negotiating ransoms in most cases, with crew released unharmed.

But the heightened risk means insurance premiums are rocketing.
   
And some carriers are now taking the long route around the southern tip of Africa, rather than the Suez Canal, pushing up the cost of commodities at a time of global uncertainty.
  
The Delight was the third ship sailing under a Hong Kong flag alone to be seized in the area this autumn.
   
"We have now a total of two Hong Kong vessels held by Somali pirates, and one has been released," the official at the Maritime Rescue Centre said.
   
The crew members on the Delight are from Iran, Pakistan, Indian, the Philippines and Guyana, the official said.

They were carrying 36,000 tonnes of wheat to Iran's Bandar Abbas port.
   
The two previous targets were both chartered by chemical tanker shipping group Stolt-Nielsen.

The Stolt Strength was captured this month, just days before the release of the Stolt Valor which was raided in September.