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Somalia pirates seize Japanese ship

NAIROBI, July 22 – Pirates have seized a Japanese-owned vessel transporting lead and zinc off the Somali coast, a Kenyan maritime official said Tuesday.

The Panama-flagged MV Stella Maris was seized on Sunday near Calula, a port town in Somalia’s breakaway northern region of Puntland, said Andrew Mwangura of the Kenyan chapter of the Seafarers Assistance Programme.

Puntland presidential advisor Bile Mohamoud Qabowsade said "Thirty eight heavily-armed pirates stormed the ship sailing in the international waters in the Gulf of Aden."

"So far we are tracking them down. We want to know where they are going to stay with the ship," Qabowsade told AFP.

"We have been told that 18 crew members are also on board. Speed boats used by the pirates are also following the ship."

The hijackers of the 52,000-tonne freighter are yet to make any demands, Mwangura told AFP, adding that no information about its port of origin and destination as well as the nationalities of the crew had been received.

The vessel is owned by Turtel Marine Shipping and managed by MMS Company of Japan.

The waters off Somalia, which has not had an effective central government for more than 17 years, are considered to be among the most dangerous in the world.

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According to the International Maritime Bureau, more than 25 ships were seized off Somalia’s 3,700 kilometres (2,300 miles) of coastline last year despite patrols by an international force based in Djibouti.

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