Somali pirates strike again

NAIROBI, Kenya --

Somali pirates hijacked a German gas tanker and its 13-man crew Thursday in the Gulf of Aden, the third ship captured off the Horn of Africa this month.

The MV Longchamp, registered in the Bahamas, is managed by the German firm Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement, which said in a statement that seven pirates boarded the tanker early Thursday.

Spokesman Andre Delau said the ship's master had been briefly allowed to communicate with the firm and had said the crew of 12 Filipinos and one Indonesian were safe.

"We think that everything is in order, nobody is injured," he told The Associated Press.

No ransom demands have been made yet, the company said.

Lt. Nathan Christensen, a Bahrain-based spokesman for the U.S. 5th Fleet, said the ship was seized off the southern coast of Yemen, 60 miles (95 kilometers) from the town of al-Mukalla, the capital of Yemen's Hadramaut region. Yemen is on the north side of the Gulf of Aden, while Somalia is on the south.

Robin Phillips, deputy director of the Bahamas maritime authority in London, said the Longchamp had been traveling in a corridor secured by EU military forces when it sent a distress signal before dawn.

"Ships and helicopters were dispatched, but they arrived too late," said Phillips, who added that gun shots could be heard over the radio.

He said the ship later set a course south for Somalia.

The tanker is designed to carry pressurized liquefied gas, but Phillips said he did not know whether it was full. Liquefied petroleum gas is a mixture of gases used to fuel heating appliances and vehicles. The mixture can be mostly propane, or mostly butane, or a combination of both.

Piracy has taken an increasing toll on international shipping, especially in the Gulf of Aden, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, which links the Mediterranean Sea and the Suez Canal with the Indian Ocean. Pirates made an estimated $30 million hijacking ships for ransom last year, seizing more than 40 vessels off Somalia's 1,900-mile (3,000-kilometer) coastline.

Somali waters are now patrolled by more than a dozen warships from countries including Britain, France, Germany, Iran and the United States. China and South Korea have also ordered warships sent to the region to protect their vessels and crews from pirates.

Somalia, a nation of about 8 million people, has not had a functioning government since warlords overthrew a dictator in 1991 and then turned on each other. Its lawless coastline is a haven for pirates.

The Longchamp is the third ship to be hijacked in the Gulf of Aden this year. Six have been released. Cyrus Mody of the International Maritime Bureau said 166 crew on nine ships were still being held off the coast of Somalia, not including the Longchamp.

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Associated Press writers Barbara Surk in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Mike Melia in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Simone Utler in Hamburg, Germany and David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report.


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