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Spanish boat seized by pirates

NAIROBI, Oct  2 – Somali pirates on Friday captured a Spanish fishing boat in the Indian Ocean, marking a return of sea bandits from the lawless Horn of Africa country with the end of the monsoon season.

The 100-metre Alakrana and its crew of 36 was seized in the early hours of Friday in the high seas between Somalia and the Seychelles, maritime officials told AFP.

"It was hijacked this morning. We do not know the exact location yet," said Andrew Mwangura of the Kenya-based Seafarers Assistance Programme, which monitors pirate activity.

A Spanish military official told AFP in Madrid that the Alakrana sent a distress call to another Spanish fishing vessel in the vicinity which in turn alerted a frigate with the European Union’s anti-piracy naval force.

A plane has been dispatched to make contact with the Alakrana.

The latest hijacking brings to at least five the number of vessels in the hands of Somali pirates.

According to Ecoterra International, an NGO monitoring illegal maritime activities in the region, at least 163 attacks have been carried out by Somali pirates since the start of 2009 alone, 47 of them successful hijackings.

Last year, more than 130 merchant ships were attacked, a rise of more than 200 percent on 2007, according to the Kuala Lumpur-based International Maritime Bureau’s Piracy Reporting Centre.

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The US Maritime Administration warned last month that the end of the monsoon season was likely to bring an increase in piracy off Somalia and urged shipping companies to be vigilant.

Calmer waters allow pirates in small boats to stage hijackings of cargo vessels.

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