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South Koreans Try to Contact Somali Gunmen Holding Fishing Vessel

The Korean embassy in Kenya's capital says its officials are trying to contact Somali gunmen who hijacked a South Korean fishing vessel in Somalia this week.

The Dongwon-Ho number 628 boat and its 25-member crew are being held near the Somali port of Obbia.

The secretary of the Korean embassy in Nairobi, Myong-Yong Om, tells VOA the South Korean government has not heard directly from the gunmen.

"So far, we don't know what they want. We are trying to connect [with] them, but at the moment we don't know the route directly. We are trying to [get] in touch [with] them," Myong-Yong Om said.

South Korean officials announced Wednesday that the fishing vessel was captured early Tuesday by pirates in waters off the coast of Somalia.

The vessel was traveling with two other boats at the time of the attack, the officials said in a statement.

The statement said U.S. and Dutch naval vessels tried to intervene but gave up the chase after the ship entered Somali waters.

The crew includes South Korean, Indonesian, Vietnamese, and Chinese nationals.

The coordinator of the Kenyan chapter of the Seafarers' Assistance Program, Andrew Mwangura, says he met in Nairobi Thursday with officials from the Korean and Chinese embassies to see what could be done to help the captives.

He says contacting the gunmen is a top priority.

"First of all we need to know how much money do they want, and why are they demanding the money. They haven't asked for money," Mwangura said.

Mwangura says the crew had obtained a fishing permit from Somalia's transitional government and was therefore allowed to fish in the area where they were hijacked.

He says he is planning to meet top Somali government officials in Nairobi to find out what the Somali government is planning to do about the situation and why the government failed to provide security to the fishing vessel.

Mwangura says the piracy attack has all the hallmarks of the Somali Marines, a highly organized group of gunmen financed by a Somali warlord and operating in a highly militaristic fashion.

He says he has given South Korean officials the telephone number of the warlord behind the group.

The waters off the Somali coast are among the most dangerous in the world, and piracy has become a big problem for the past year.

The London-based International Maritime Bureau monitors piracy activities worldwide. According to a recent report, 39 piracy incidents have been reported since March of last year.

The bureau says heavily-armed pirates are attacking ships farther away from the coast, and advises ships not making scheduled calls at Somali ports to keep at least 200 nautical miles from the Somali coast.