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Kenya, Somalia Discuss Growing Piracy Problem

The Kenyan and Somali governments are discussing ways to deal with the growing problem of piracy off the coast of Somalia. The Kenyan government has warned Kenyans not to sail near Somalia's coastline.

Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua told reporters in Nairobi Wednesday his government is working closely with Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Gedi to secure the release of 16 Kenyans and two Kenyan ships being held hostage by Somali pirates.

Mr. Mutua says the hijackings have not soured diplomatic relations between the two countries.

"It is like carjacking," he said. "When a Somalia man who is visiting Kenya is carjacked in the streets of Nairobi, it does not ruin the relationship between Kenya and Somalia. This is piracy - it is pure and basic piracy. It is carjacking of the sea."

The latest hijacking occurred Wednesday, when pirates captured a Kenyan ship 50 nautical miles south of the capital Mogadishu.

The ship was offloading supplies from the World Food Program when a group of pirates stormed on board and sailed away, taking seven Kenyans, one Ugandan, and 400 tons of food with them.

This was the second time that a ship carrying relief food was hijacked. In June, pirates captured a vessel carrying 850 metric tons of rice for 28,000 tsunami victims and held it and nine Kenyans hostage for three months.

In a statement released Wednesday, the World Food Program said it is looking at other ways to deliver food aid to the volatile nation, including by road from Kenya and through Djibouti.

The agency said shipping companies are demanding armed escorts.

Last week, pirates hijacked another ship carrying general cargo for Somali businessmen, capturing nine Kenyans and a Sri Lankan.

Kenya government spokesman Mr. Mutua told reporters it would be a good idea for Kenyans to avoid their neighbor's coastline.

"The government is concerned with the hijacking of ships and kidnapping of Kenyan sailors off the coast of Somalia," he said. "Therefore, the government advises Kenyans to avoid sailing to the coastline area of Somalia because of the high incidents of piracy and kidnapping that have been witnessed in recent times and to which many Kenyans have fallen victim."

Mr. Mutua says, in the past 15 years, eight Kenyan owned or managed merchant ships have been hijacked along Somalia's coastline.

He says his government is "not in a position to guarantee safety to every Kenyan sailing to this area."