Wed, Mar 16, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Japan tries to free sailors abducted by armed pirates

AFP , TOKYO

Japan said yesterday it was doing its best, but with limited success, to free two Japanese and one Filipino who were kidnapped by pirates from a Japanese-registered tugboat in the Malacca Strait.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi ordered government agencies to work to rescue the three but Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said Tokyo had yet to make contact with the kidnappers.

"We are not seeing any progress at all. At this moment we have no new information. We have yet to find the hostage-takers as well as the victims," Hosoda, Japan's government spokesman, told an afternoon news conference.

Asked if the pirates want ransom, Hosoda said "there is no such thing" but added he could not reveal many details.

Japan's coast guards are considering sending patrol vessels and planes to the area if Malaysia makes such a request, a coast guard official said.

The foreign ministry set up a task force to handle the crisis and asked Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore for help, Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura said.

"The government is doing its utmost for their swift release and understands that these countries are making their utmost efforts for us," Machimura said.

Two Japanese sailors -- 56-year-old captain Nobuo Inoue and 50-year-old chief engineer Shunji Kuroda -- and a Filipino crewman were kidnapped by the pirate gang late Monday. The remaining 11 tugboat crewmen were safe.

The pirates also stole about ?800,000 (US$7,700) in cash, and some documents.

"I have no information at all," Kazumi Inoue, wife of the captain, told reporters in Tokyo. "I'm also receiving information through television. So all I can do is to just wait here."

Shoji Kuroda, a brother of the chief engineer, said separately: "We just have to watch quietly what is going on while praying for their safe return to the country."

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