A hardline Islamist militia pledged today after seizing control of one of Somalia's main pirate hubs to end piracy in the region by imposing Islamic sharia law.
A day after the Hezb al-Islam captured Harardhere town in the north of the lawless Horn of Africa state, pirates moved
away three vessels they are holding, although the militants did not say if they intended to storm the ships.
"From now on Harardhere is one of the Somali towns where Islamic sharia will be implemented," Sheik Ahmed Abu Yahya, a senior Hezb al-Islam commander, told AFP by phone.
"There will be no piracy or any kind of robbery here.
From now on people will obey Islamic law," he said, adding: "Our presence here will change the image of this town which
the bandits destroyed."
Harardhere is one of the main hideouts for the pirate gangs that have turned the waters off Somalia into a danger
zone for foreign vessels, which they capture exclusively for ransom.
Local residents said the three vessels -- Seychelles-owned MV Rak Afrikana, a Norwegian chemical tanker
and a Kenyan-flagged fishing boat -- had been moved up the coast from Harardhere.
"The Islamists have not interfered with us yet but some ships near Harardhere were moved in order to avoid any attempt
to interfere," Abdi Yare, a pirate in the coastal town of Hobyo told AFP.
"The Islamists, we cannot trust them. There is not one single pirate in Harardhere today," he added by phone from
Hobyo, some 230 kilometres further north.
The Rak Afrikana, registered the Caribbean state of St Vincent and the Grenadines, was hijacked last month in the
Indian Ocean with a crew of 23 on board.
The Norwegian tanker, the UBT Ocean, was captured in March with its 21-man crew from Myanmar while the fishing boat
MV Sakoba has 16 sailors.
Harardhere fishermen confirmed the three vessels had been moved.
"There were three ships near the coast of Harardhere but this morning we cannot see them, they moved towards Hobyo," said one fisherman, Abdikafar Mohamed.
"I think the pirates are afraid of the Islamists and you cannot see them in town today, they fled, you cannot reach
them on their cell phones as most of them headed towards Hobyo," he added.