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Somali Pirates Deny Arms Seizure

Somali Pirates Deny Arms Seizure
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A man who says he is a Somali pirate on board a cargo vessel seized off the coast of Somalia has told VOA that the ship was not carrying weapons. Maritime experts had speculated the ship was illegally transporting arms to Somalia. The company that manages the vessel says it is negotiating with the pirates.

VOA spoke by phone to a man who says his name is Issa Abdi Ahmed. He says he is a pirate on board the cargo ship al-Mizan, which was seized by pirates.

An arms expert said Monday he believed the ship was carrying weapons to Somalia, in contravention of a U.N. arms embargo.

But Ahmed the alleged pirate whose phone number was given to VOA by the agent operating the ship, says no arms are on board.

He says he will soon be negotiating a ransom demand with the owners.

Somalia's pirates have stepped up their attacks in recent weeks and now hold at least 11 vessels and more than 200 crew.

Ahmed says the pirates are defending the Somali coast from illegal shipping and toxic waste dumping.

Mohammed Iqbal, who says he manages the hijacked cargo ship al-Mizan, spoke to VOA from Dubai.

He says negotiations with the pirates are under way.

"The plan is that the charters are negotiating with them," Iqbal said.

He says there are 18 crew members on board.

"15 are Indians, two are Pakistanis and one is Somali," Iqbal said.

The business group that hired al-Mizan says the ship was carrying mainly food and electronics from the United Arab Emirates to Somalia's capital Mogadishu.

But Andrew Mwangura of the piracy specialist group East African Seafarers' Assistance Program says he believes the ship is one of the regular weapons carriers circumventing the U.N. arms embargo on Somalia.

Mwangura, whose claim can not be verified, told VOA the pirates may not be telling the truth when they deny the existence of the arms.

He says the pirates may fear that naval ships patrolling the area will close in on the ship if they believe weapons have fallen into the wrong hands.

In a separate incident, Monday pirates opened fire on a Hong-Kong registered ship some 1,000 nautical miles off Somalia's coast. Experts say it is the longest range of a pirate attack off the Somali coast yet.

Britain-based piracy expert Peter Lehr says Somalia's pirates are shifting their attentions from the Gulf of Aden and increasingly sailing farther out in the Indian Ocean.