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Somali Pirates Hijack South Korean Fishing Vessel

A Kenyan seaman's group says it will help South Korea in efforts to secure the release of sailors kidnapped Tuesday by Somali pirates. The Kenyan chapter of the Seafarers' Assistance Program plans to meet with South Korean officials in Nairobi to discuss the hijacking of a South Korean fishing boat off the Somali coast.

Seafarers' Assistance Program coordinator Andrew Mwangura tells VOA the hijacking of the South Korean fishing vessel 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 thinks the Somali marines' strategy will be to accuse the vessel of illegally fishing in Somali waters.

"This must be the Somali marines," said Mwangura. "What their demand will be [is that] they [the crew of the vessel] were fishing illegally, so they will fine them for illegal fishing in Somali waters."

Mwangura says he has not heard of any ransoms being demanded, and that the hijacking took place in a style of the Somali marines an in an area they operate.

South Korean officials announced that the Dongwon-ho No. 628 boat 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 that U.S. and Dutch naval vessels tried to intervene, but gave up the chase after the ship entered Somali waters.

Mwangura says the 25-member crew, which includes South Korean, Indonesian, Vietnamese, and Chinese nationals, is being held off the Somali port of Obbia.

He says his organization is concerned about the crew's fate.

"I have already got in touch with the Chinese embassy and the Korean embassy," he said. "They have called me and tomorrow [Thursday] I will be visiting their offices in Nairobi for further consultation on how we can assist the hostages."

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

The London-based International Maritime Bureau monitors piracy activities worldwide and says 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 coast.