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Kenyan flagged boat hijacked

MOMBASA, Mar 10 – Suspected Somali pirates have hijacked a Kenyan-flagged fishing boat with 16 crew which may be used as a "mother ship" to launch more attacks in the Indian Ocean, maritime sources said on Tuesday.

Andrew Mwangura, the head of the East African Seafarers Assistance Programme said that the MV Sakoba had a Spanish captain and 15 other crew members from Kenya, Poland, Senegal, Cape Verde and Namibia.

"The vessel was taken hostage in waters off the Kenyan and Seychellois coasts last week," he said.

The European Union\’s Atalanta anti-piracy naval mission confirmed in a statement that the ship was in the hands of pirates on Tuesday and heading towards the Somali pirate lair of Harardhere.

"The Kenyan flagged fishing vessel Sakoba is reported hijacked 400 nautical miles east of Dar es Salam," the statement said.

Atalanta spokesman John Harbour told AFP that the ship\’s ownership was unclear and voiced fears that the hijacked vessel might be used by the pirates as a floating base from which to launch their skiffs on more victims.

"We don\’t know who owns the ship. We know that in 2007 it was Spanish owned," Harbour said. "In fact, that ship might have been used by pirates as a mother ship."

Spain\’s fisheries federation Cepesca said in a statement that the ship\’s operator was Kenyan while the foreign ministry stressed that "the only connection with Spain is that the captain is Spanish."

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Mr Mwangura said the case was suspect since no attempt has apparently been made by the pirates to contact the owners or operators and start negotiations for a ransom payment.

"Communication with the ship has not been established," he said. "It is very strange because in all other pirate attacks, the hijackers make contact with the ship\’s owners for the sole purpose of negotiating for a ransom."

The UK Maritime Trade Organisation urged seafarers to avoid sailing too close to the Somali coast.

"The fishing vessel is used as a pirate platform and still poses a threat to mariners," it said.

Ecoterra International, a environmental NGO monitoring maritime activity in the region, said the MV Sakoba had a murky track record.

In 2005, the MV Sakoba, then comprising a crew from Kenya and Spain and registered in Ghana, was involved in an incident during which the Kenyan crew members were injured.

Somali pirates, who raked in at least 60 million dollars in ransom money last year, currently hold at least seven ships and close to 150 seamen hostage.

Over the past year, Atalanta and several other multinational naval missions have curbed piracy in the Gulf of Aden – one of the world\’s busiest maritime trade routes – but sea bandits have since ventured further south into less heavily-patrolled areas of the Indian Ocean.

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