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Minister: Indonesians aboard hijacked tugboat safe

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — All 11 Indonesian crew members on board a Malaysian tugboat hijacked by Somalian pirates in the Gulf of Aden this week are safe and have enough food for a month, Malaysia's foreign minister said Friday.

The pirates got in touch with the tugboat's owner, Masindra Shipping Pvt. Ltd., by satellite phone to say the vessel was being taken to Somalian waters from near Yemen where it was hijacked Tuesday, Foreign Minister Rais Yatim told reporters.

He said the pirates told a Masindra representative that "the payment of ransom would be discussed later."

All crew members of Masindra 7 were reported to be safe and in good health, he said, adding that the information had been conveyed to the Indonesian ambassador in Kuala Lumpur.

Pirates based in Somalia, a poor lawless African nation in the grip of civil war, have hijacked more than 40 vessels this year — many in the Gulf of Aden — for ransom. A multinational naval force patrols the area but is unable to cover the vast waterway at all times.

The Malaysia-registered Masindra 7 was about 45 nautical miles (83 kilometers) off the Yemen coast when it was hijacked. Rais said Muhibbah Engineering, a Malaysian company that had hired the tugboat and an accompanying barge, informed the Malaysian mission in Sana'a, Yemen, of the hijacking.

Rais said a Malaysian navy vessel in the Gulf of Aden as part of the multinational force was ready to help Malaysian merchant ships in the area.

"The Malaysian Shipping Association has been informed of this to spread the word to all Malaysian shipping companies," he said.

That navy vessel, KD Sri Indera Sakti, and a Malaysian military helicopter helped prevent the hijacking of a China-registered vessel, Zhenhua 4, on Wednesday. The helicopter fired warning shots at the pirates' boat, forcing them to abandon their mission.

Sri Indera Sakti was sent to the Gulf of Aden after two Malaysian ships were hijacked on Aug. 19 and Aug. 29. A Filipino crew member was killed by a stray bullet during the first hijacking. All remaining crew members were later released after undisclosed sums were paid as ransom.

On Thursday, China said it would send warships to join the international task force, the Chinese navy's first major mission outside the Pacific.

The move comes after a unanimous U.N. Security Council vote this week to authorize nations to conduct land and air attacks on the increasingly audacious pirates in the Gulf of Aden.

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