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Somali Pirates Move Hijacked Ships After Insurgents Seize Town

Somali pirates have moved three hijacked ships from the port of Harardheere, which was seized by Islamist militants on Sunday.

Witnesses say pirates sent the three ships farther out to sea as fighters from the insurgent group Hizbul Islam stormed into Harardheere, prompting pirates there to flee.

The destination of the ships is not known but many of the pirates have fled to another pirate stronghold, Hobyo, farther north on Somalia's eastern coast.

A spokesman for Hizbul Islam, Abdinasir Mohamed Afdhuub, says the group seized Harardheere to impose Islamic law.

However, pirates from the area say Hizbul Islam had demanded a cut of the pirates multi-million dollar business – hijacking ships for ransom.

Somali pirates have made tens of millions of dollars hijacking ships in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean over the last few years. The pirates are currently believed to be holding 24 ships with about 400 crew members.

Andrew Mwangura, head of the East Africa Seafarers' Assistance Program, identifies the three ships moved from Harardheere as the MV Rak Afrikana, the UBT Ocean, and the MV Sakoba. The vessels have a total of about 60 crew members.

Hizbul Islam and the insurgent group al-Shabab have been fighting the fragile Somali government for three years. The groups control large parts of southern and central Somalia and portions of the capital, Mogadishu.

Both have moved to enforce a harsh form of sharia, or Islamic law, in the areas under their control.

The groups were once allies but fell out last year in a dispute over another port town, Kismayo.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.