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Stolt-Nielsen says ship seized off Somalia, crew safe

Published: 16 Sep 2008 21:16:52 PST

HONG KONG, Sept 17 - Hijackers have seized a cargo ship chartered by chemical tanker shipping group Stolt-Nielsen <SNI.OL> off the Somali coast, a senior company officer said on Wednesday.

Andrew Pickering, managing director for Asia-Pacific, said the 25,000-tonne Stolt Valor, on its way to Mumbai, India, with a cargo of base oils and chemicals, had just passed through the Suez canal when it was hijacked.

"Our understanding is that the crew is safe," he told Reuters by phone from Singapore. "The whereabouts of the ship have been identified. It's in Somalia."

Gunmen from Somalia have hijacked more than 30 ships so far this year, making the strategic shipping lanes in the busy Gulf of Aden the most dangerous in the world.

On Tuesday, 30 French commandos stormed a luxury yacht in a pre-dawn assault to rescue two French tourists who were being held for ransom by heavily-armed Somali pirates.

Pickering said he did not know if the Stolt Valor's crew of 22 -- 18 Indians, two Filipinos, one Bangladeshi and one Russian -- were still on the ship.

The Hong Kong-registered vessel is owned by Central Marine Company in Hiroshima, Japan, and managed by Fleet Management in Hong Kong.

Nobody at Fleet Management was immediately available to comment.

Pickering said the ship was insured by the owner's Protection and Indemnity Club, England Mutual.

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