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4 Oct, 2008 01:55

Pirates die mysteriously on captured Iranian ship

Somali authorities say they believe an Iranian ship being held by pirates could be carrying illegal chemical weapons. Since its capture a number of pirates have apparently died due to a mysterious illness.

Almost everyday a ship is attacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia. The recent capture of a Ukrainian vessel carrying 33 tanks and other ammunition has highlighted the dangers of the region.

The U.S.-based Long War Journal has published a story on one hijacking that stands out from all the others – the capture of an Iranian ship the MV Iran Deyanat in August.

Long War Journal’s Nick Grace says he has spoken to several officials in Somalia, who work both for the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia as well as the autonomous government in Puntland state. They’re convinced that the ship is carrying chemical weapons.

“Some of the pirates have come down with skin burns, others were losing their hair and, according to numerous reports, a number of the pirates have also died from whatever is held in the cargo of this ship,” said Grace.

Although the mystery over this ship's cargo has sparked fears of illegal chemical weapons on board, not all Somali officials agree.

Somali Ambassador to Russia, Mohamed Handule, said they don’t have any precise information of what is on board the ship.
According to Andrew Mwangura, who’s taken part in negotiations with many pirate gangs in Somalia, it's not likely anyone will find out exactly what is on the MV Iran Deyanat until it's released.

The Iran Deyanat belongs to a state-owned Iranian company which has been sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury for alleged weapons smuggling. Iranian officials have denied the ship was transporting chemicals.

“Our vessel was not travelling from Iran but was going from China to the Netherlands. It was carrying rocks, cement and metals and not chemicals as reported by our foes,” said Mahmud Akhmadi from the Parliamentarian Committee on Security and Foreign Relations of Iran.
So far, the ship's owners haven't come to an agreement with the pirates over the ransom. The Iranian media has suggested the U.S. has offered the pirates $US 7 million just to inspect the vessel – something which has been neither confirmed nor denied in Washington.

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