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Somali pirates attempted to hijack a ship Thursday night in the Mogadishu port but were eventually scared away by a rescue effort. The Syrian captain on the Panama-flagged ship was killed in the incident.

The African Union forces and Somali police responded after receiving a distress call from the ship.

But Barigye Ba-hoku, the spokesman for African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM, says that by the time his forces got there, the pirates had already climbed aboard the vessel.

"We reacted very quickly and tried to prevent these characters from boarding on to the ship, but unfortunately by the time we reacted, some of them had already succeeded and accessed the ship and had even managed to reach the cabin crew area," said Ba-hoku.

The AMISOM spokesperson claimed he did not have knowledge of ship's cargo, but the boat was reportedly en route from Dubai.

Ba-hoku says that after some shots were exchanged, the pirates fled the ship.

"We deterred them, we were able to stop them from taking the ship. I'm not aware if they took any other valuables, but what is a fact is that the ship was saved, it was rescued, and it was delivered to the harbor, and it is still there," he said.

But the captain was killed after reportedly refusing to turn the ship back out to sea.

"The gunman injured the captain of the ship, and he later succumbed to his wounds and died. And another crew member was also injured; he's undergoing treatment," said Ba-hoku.

Piracy off the lawless Somali coast has plagued ships along the popular sea route that hooks around the Horn of Africa.

The lucrative ransoms negotiated with the vessels' owners for the release of their cargo has fueled the piracy business in the country which has largely stagnated in violent anarchy for almost two decades.

Incidents of Somali piracy has waned in the past few months as monsoon season has made the offshore waters more dangerous for the opportunistic gangs.

Some shipping companies have begun sending their ships along different routes to avoid areas nearby the Somali shore, but the importance of the Gulf of Aden route has kept many more still braving its waters.

A number of different countries have sent navy patrols to the important sea route, but the immensity of the area targeted by the pirates has limited the effect of these few military ships.

The option of arming the private ships to protect against hijacking is complicated by common port laws which ban private firearms within port waters.

The seaport is one of three main sites in Mogadishu protected by the AMISOM forces.