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‘Hijacked tanker expected to reach Somalia today’

A hijacked Singapore palm oil tanker was expected to reach Somalia Monday, where negotiations will begin with pirates over the release of its 25-member crew including four South Koreans, an official here said.

Somali pirates seized the 21,000-ton MT Gemini as well as more than 28,000 tons of crude palm oil off the coast of Kenya the previous day, the vessel’s owner had announced in a statement.

According to the Singapore shipper Glory Ship Management, the chemical vessel was en route to Mombasa, Kenya, from Indonesia with 13 Indonesians, five Chinese, four South Koreans and three Myanmar citizens aboard when it was hijacked.

All four South Koreans on board, including the 56-year-old captain known by his family name Park, are in their 50s, an official at the Foreign Ministry here told reporters on the condition of customary anonymity.

Because the vessel belongs to a Singapore firm, the South Korean government cannot intervene in the process of the crewmembers’ release or negotiations, although its nationals were on board, the official added.

“We have set up a task force to monitor the situation closely,” he said. “We will wait and see how negotiations between the Singapore firm and the pirates unfold.”

Without elaborating on the ransom or other demands by the pirates, the Singapore shipper had announced Sunday it was “keeping the appropriate Singapore and international authorities fully informed of the situation.”

Continuing toward Somalia at a steady speed, the vessel is expected to reach the country’s harbor later Monday, according to the Singapore firm and diplomatic sources here.

It is the latest in a series of hijackings involving South Koreans in the pirate-infested region.

South Korean container vessel Hanjin Tianjin, carrying 20 people, was kidnapped by pirates off the Somali coast less than two weeks ago, although the crew remained unharmed inside the ship’s citadel while hijackers gave up and ran off.

In November, a Singapore-flagged cargo ship carrying 19 Chinese crewmembers was freed some five months after it was hijacked by pirates who received several million dollars as a ransom, according to news reports.

Armed pirates riding speedboats are active around the Gulf of Aden, where they seize vessels from days to weeks before freeing them for a large sum of money paid by governments or shippers. Governments around the world have striven to avoid negotiating with pirates so as not to encourage further hijackings.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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