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Twitter Send 2010/04/05 11:19 KST
(LEAD) Somali pirates still mum on hijacked S. Korean ship: official

SEOUL, April 5 (Yonhap) -- Somali pirates have given no word yet about a South Korean oil tanker that they are believed to be holding, a foreign ministry official said Monday.

   The 300,000-ton supertanker Samho Dream was allegedly seized by pirates Sunday in waters about 1,500 kilometers southeast of the Gulf of Aden on its way from Iraq to the U.S. state of Louisiana. On board the vessel were 24 crew members -- five South Koreans and 19 Filipinos.

   "We believe the ship, Samho Dream, has been seized by Somali pirates based on the details of our last communication with the ship," the ministry official said, asking not to be identified.

The ship's owner, Samho Shipping Co., based in the South Korean port city of Busan, also said that it believes pirates hijacked the tanker, adding that its captain has remained out of contact.

   Ships operating in Somali waters are often accompanied by private or government escorts because of rampant pirate activity in the area, but the ship did not have any guards on board as it was operating in areas where piracy is not frequent.

   "(Samho Dream) did not have any guards on board because it was in an area not prone to pirate activities," an official from the company said in a press conference in Busan.

   The foreign ministry official said that a South Korean Navy destroyer, which has been in the region for anti-piracy operations, has been ordered to move toward the expected route of the hijacked tanker, apparently heading to Somali waters.

   But the main task of the warship is not to intercept the hijacked ship, he said.

   "The government, including its highest decision-makers, is dealing with the situation, putting top priority on the lives and safety of the crew members," the official told reporters.

   The South Korean government won't engage in any negotiations with the pirates for the safe release of the ship and its crew members, the official said.

   "The government will not directly take part in any negotiations as it believes such a move can further jeopardize the lives of hostages. Samho Shipping will be in charge of any negotiations with the government only playing a supporting role," he said.