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Seajack off Somalia:

Lankan Captain, crew still held

ONE month and two days into the hijacking of the WFP chartered ship MV Semlov off the Somali coast the authorities are still negotiating the release of the ship with its 10 member crew and Sri Lankan captain S. Mahalingam.

A Foreign Ministry spokesperson said the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in Kenya M. Keeran met the Somali Foreign Minister in Nairobi on Tuesday to seek his assistance to persuade the hijackers to release the crew.

"Our High Commissioner has been assured of Somali assistance. The Minister had said that he will do his best to get the crew released," the spokesperson said.

The High Commissioner had urged the Somali Minister to get in touch with the rebel group and convince them to release the crew of the ship which was on a WFP humanitarian mission.

He is also in constant contact with the Nigerian ambassador in Somali who has been maintaining direct contact with the pirates to secure the ship's release.

A country torn by rebel wars, Somalia is known as a lawless land, with even the Government setting its base in Nairobi due to security concerns.

The WFP chartered Kenyan vessel was seized by Somali pirates on June 28 and has since been held at anchor several kilometres off the Somalia coast, with the pirates demanding a US $ 500,000 ransom.

According to the WFP it was carrying a rice consignment for Somali tsunami survivors at the time of its capture.

Since its capture the Kenyan shipping company and the WFP has been negotiating with the leaders of the group responsible through the Kenyan embassy in Somalia.

Reuters reported early this week that the hijackers have agreed to release the eight Kenyan crew members on July 25 subsequent to talks with a Kenyan Minister but were going to hold the Tanzanian engineer and the Captain in the ship.

The Foreign Ministry spokesperson said they were yet to receive information of any release of captives by the pirates.

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