Source AP ©

Gunmen attack vessel off the east African coast

Somali pirates have seized a cargo ship off the east African coast, the head of a local seafarer's association said on Monday.

Gunmen attacked the vessel on Wednesday, said Andrew Mwangura, the program coordinator of the East Africa Seafarers Assistance Program, but due to chaotic communications with war-ravaged Somalia the incident had taken several days to confirm.

He did not have details on the number or nationality of the crew members aboard the Almarjan, a cargo ship of over 2,500 tons that was flying under a flag from the Comoros Islands and operated by Dubai-based Biyat International.

There were two other attacks on ships off the Somali coast on Saturday, he added, and one of the boats had been fired upon.

Somalia has suffered 26 reported hijackings this year, up from only 8 a year earlier, according to a report released last week by the International Maritime Bureau. Some hijackings have turned deadly - pirates killed a crew member a month after seizing a Taiwan-flagged fishing vessel in May off the northeastern coast of Somalia.

Mwangura said that the increase could be linked to the overthrow of an Islamic group that had cracked down on piracy after seizing control of the Somali capital and much of southern Somalia last year.

The country, which has not had a functioning government since dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991, has been wracked by violence between the Islamic insurgents and government troops and their Ethiopian allies.

The shaky U.N.-backed government comes under daily attack by the Islamic insurgency in the capital and its coasts are virtually unpoliced.

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