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Wednesday, August 27 2014 @ 07:07 AM EDT

Japanese tanker hijacked off Somalia: piracy watchdog

Panama News KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) — A Japanese chemical tanker with 23 Korean, Filipino and Myanmar crew on board has been hijacked off the coast of northern Somalia, a piracy watchdog and officials said Monday. The vessel, believed to be carrying oil products, sent out a distress message on Sunday which was picked up by a rescue centre in Norway and relayed to the International Maritime Bureau's (IMB) Piracy Reporting Centre here. "We tried to establish contact with the ship but we failed to get any response, so we than contacted coalition warships in the area," IMB spokesman Noel Choong told AFP. The coalition naval forces informed the IMB that the ship then entered Somali territorial waters, meaning no rescue could be initiated, he said. (more)

"Somalia has no central government so that's a big problem," Choong added.

Choong declined to name the ship but a maritime official in Nairobi identified it as the Panama-flagged Golden Mori and said it was seized about eight nautical miles off Socotra archipelago.

The captain and chief engineer are Koreans, and the remainder of the crew are Filipinos and Myanmar nationals, Choong said.

He said that for the past two weeks there has been a spike in piracy activity off the coast of war-torn Somalia, including another successful hijacking on October 17 on a cargo ship which was travelling to Mombasa, Kenya.

"It was attacked with automatic weapons and hijacked. As of last week there was still no information about the safety of the crew and the location of the ship," he said.

Choong said there were also two unsuccessful hijacking attempts in the lawless region earlier this month, but that the pirates failed to board the ships.

In Tokyo, a Japanese foreign ministry official confirmed the attack on the Panama-flagged ship.

"There are no Japanese among the crew members, but we won't disclose further information as the maritime company has requested us not to," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Pirates have attacked several vessels this year off Somalia's vast and largely unpatrolled coastline, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

The attacks stopped in the second half of 2006 during six months of strict rule by Islamists, who were ousted by Ethiopian and Somali government troops at the end of the year.

Somalia, which lies at the mouth of the Red Sea, has been without an effective government since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre sparked a bloody power struggle.

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