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Somali Pirates Kill Crew Member on Captured Ship

Somali pirates are believed to have killed a man on board a Taiwanese fishing vessel that they captured last month. The pirates are threatening to kill more crew members if they do not receive the ransom money that they are demanding. Katy Migiro has more on the story from our bureau in Nairobi.

Somali gunmen allowed one of the hostages on board the hijacked ship to phone home with the news that their colleague had been shot dead. The man has not yet been identified but he is believed to be either Taiwanese or Chinese.

The hostage said he feared for his life as the gunmen have threatened to shoot more of the remaining 15 crew members if the ship's owner does not come up with the ransom money.

The pirates hijacked the Taiwanese ship in mid-May when it was 200 kilometers off the coast of the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

There has been a surge in piracy in Somali waters since the Islamic Courts Union was ousted from Mogadishu in December. Ten boats have been captured in the last four months, most recently a Danish ship with a crew of five that was hijacked on Saturday.

Andrew Mwangura of the Kenya-based Seafarers Assistance Program believes senior authorities in the Somali government in Mogadishu and in the semi-autonomous northern region of Puntland are in league with the pirates.

"I think the major cause is that there's no central government in Somalia," said Mwangura. "Another thing is that most of the top leaders or top ranking in transitional government of Somalia or Puntland authorities are part and parcel of the pirates in Somalia. So to stop it's very difficult because among their leaders are pirate leaders. The government officials and the Puntland authority are also involved in piracy."

Mwangura says he has evidence that officials from Puntland were also involved in the hijacking of a United Nations World Food Program ship earlier this year.

The government of Puntland denies these allegations. The minister for fisheries, Said Mohamed Rage, told VOA that his government is fighting piracy and set up a coast guard to protect its waters two months ago.

Somalia's interior minister, Mohamed Mahmud Gama Dhere, also denied that his government is conspiring with the pirates. However, he said the government of Somalia needs international assistance if it is to make the seas around Somalia safe.

"Alone we cannot eradicate or cannot curb the situation," said Dhere. "Also we have asked U.S. marine and army from forces here in Somalia, particularly Ugandan and Ethiopian, to take action in favor of the government. But still we don't have a positive answer."

The Seafarers Assistance Program has asked the Taiwanese government to get the shipowner to talk to the pirates.

The organization is opposed to the payment of ransom demands, which can be up to $400,000. However, the Seafarers Assistance Program official says that of the 10 ships captured since February, the five that have been freed have all had to pay for their release.