Source AP ©

Pirates seize Japanese chemical tanker and its 23 crew off Somalia coast

Pirates have seized a Japanese chemical tanker and its 23 crew in the Gulf of Eden off the coast of Somalia - the second hijacking case in two weeks, a global maritime watchdog said Monday.

Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur, said the center immediately notified Western naval ships patrolling the area after picking up a distress signal from the tanker late Sunday, but it was too late.

"The vessel and its 23 crew members comprising Koreans, Filipinos and Myanmar nationals have been confirmed hijacked by pirates. The vessel has entered Somali territorial waters," he told The Associated Press.

No other details were immediately available, he said.

This was the second hijacking since Oct. 17 after pirates opened fire and seized a general cargo ship flying under a Comoros Island flag and operated by a Dubai-based company, Choong said.

In addition, there have been at least five attempted attacks in the past two weeks in which pirates opened fire on vessels but later abandoned their pursuits, he said. Not counting these recent cases, Somalia has had 26 reported attacks this year, according to IMB data.

"It is worrying. The pirates are getting more aggressive and going further from the coast," Choong said. "We call upon the coalition warships and Somali authorities to beef up patrol and take more serious action to stop the pirates."

Ships are urged to stay more than 200 nautical miles from the Somali coast, he added.

Somalia lies close to crucial shipping routes connecting the Red Sea with the Indian Ocean, where valuable cargo and carriers must pass.

After 16 years of violence and anarchy, Somalia is now led by a U.N.-backed transitional government battling to establish authority and challenged by an Islamic insurgency. Its coasts are virtually unpoliced.

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