Somali pirates holding tanker send Japan demands

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NAIROBI, Nov 8 (Reuters) Somali pirates who hijacked a Japanese-owned chemical tanker two weeks ago off the Horn of Africa have sent demands to the Japanese government, a maritime official said today.

''There is still no good news ... the demands were made in secret to Japan's government,'' Andrew Mwangura of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme told Reuters, adding he had no further details.

Pirates from Somalia -- who have made waters off their coastline among the most dangerous in the world -- typically want ransoms paid to free seized ships. Japanese officials were not immediately available to comment.

The Panamanian-flagged Golden Nori was carrying benzene when it was attacked about eight nautical miles offshore on October 28.

Giving a first detailed breakdown of its crew, Mwangura said there were 12 sailors from Myanmar, nine from the Philippines and two South Koreans on board. Their conditions were not known.

The US Navy said one of its warships opened fire at the attackers on October 30, sinking the small speedboats the pirates had used to raid the tanker out at sea.

Earlier this week, Somali pirates released two South Korean ships and a Taiwanese vessel they captured in May. Along with the Golden Nori, they are still believed to be holding a cargo ship registered in Comoros.

Piracy has been rife off Somalia since warlords toppled military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Many of the pirates claim to be ''coastguards'' protecting their waters against illegal fishing and the dumping of toxic waste.


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