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August 31, 2008

Second Malaysian vessel hijacked by Somali pirates
Heavily armed Somali pirates seized a Malaysian tanker in the latest such attack in the waters off the chaotic Horn of Africa country, Reuters quoted a maritime official said on Saturday.

"We believe it's a Malaysian bulk carrier and it was hijacked last night," Andrew Mwangura, head of the Kenya-based East Africa Seafarers' Assistance Programme, told Reuters.

Malaysia's Star newspaper, in its online edition, quoted national carrier MISC as saying its ship was the hijacked vessel.

The tanker, Bunga Melati 5, was carrying petrochemicals and had 36 Malaysians and five Filipinos on board, the company said.

Lawlessness is spreading fast onshore as Somalia collapses into the worst fighting for two nearly decades. That is fuelling a wave of piracy that increasingly threatens vessels using the Gulf of Aden, one of the world's most important waterways.

Somali gunmen have hijacked at least 30 ships in the area so far this year. Last week, they seized four in 48 hours, and are now holding about 130 crew hostage on at least eight vessels from Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, Germany, Nigeria and Iran.

The piracy is also hampering aid shipments to Somalia, worsening a humanitarian crisis, and the increase in attacks has forced Western navies to take action to protect shipping.

Nearly 20,000 ships pass through the Gulf of Aden each year, heading to and from the Suez Canal.

This week a Djibouti-based coalition anti-terrorism unit, Combined Task Force 150, set up a Maritime Security Patrol Area or safe corridor that navy warships will roam while coalition aircraft fly overhead.

Somalia's interim government and its Ethiopian military allies have been fighting Islamist insurgents since the start of last year. The fighting has killed more than 8,000 civilians and driven a further 1 million from their homes.

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