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Somali Pirates Dash Hope For End To U.N. Ship Saga
NAIROBI, Sept 22 (Reuters) - Somali pirates took a hijacked U.N. aid ship out to sea again on Thursday, dashing hopes for an end to the three-month saga and release of their ten hostages.
The gunmen have been holding the MV Semlow -- with 10 crew members from Kenya, Tanzania and Sri Lanka, plus 850 tonnes of food aid sent by the U.N. World Food Programme -- since June 27.
In what appeared to be a deal to end the standoff in the lawless Indian Ocean waters off Somalia, the militiamen on Monday brought the boat into El Maan port, north of Mogadishu.
But on Thursday, the ship left again with the food and hostages on board after the pirates apparently issued new ransom demands to the Kenyan shipping agent leasing the vessel.
"It got so close, I really thought we were coming to an end of this," WFP spokesman Robin Lodge told Reuters in Nairobi.
"But they have made new financial demands...The port authorities said they would not allow the ship to stay, so they left this afternoon, in the direction of Mogadishu it seems."
Inayet Kudrati, director of Mombasa-based Motaku Shipping Agency which leased the boat, said he was extremely worried for the eight Kenyan crew, Sri Lankan captain and Tanzanian engineer on board. The latest development was very confusing, he added.
"She sailed out from the port. Where she is going we don't know," he told Reuters by telephone from Mombasa.
"They want ransom. They haven't set a figure. I don't know now why they left when they were supposed to discharge the cargo. I don't know which direction they're going."
The militiamen had initially demanded a $500,000 ransom, then demanded the rice for their home area in northern Somalia, before this week agreeing to a face-saving deal whereby the new Transitional Federal Government (TFG) would distribute the aid.
"It was all agreed, but they've gone back on it," Lodge added.
The TFG is the 14th attempt to re-establish central government in Somalia after warlords ousted dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and have held sway since then.
The seizure of the WFP-chartered ship has been the most high-profile of a recent spree of hijackings in waters considered to be among the world's most dangerous.
Armed pirates use speed boats to attack ships in the area, and even recently targeted a laden oil tanker, according to the International Maritime Bureau.