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    Jordanian crew slam Tigers for piracy

    Colombo, Dec. 26 (PTI): The crew of a Jordanian ship that ran aground near the rebel-controlled territory off the island's coast, today accused the Tamil Tigers of forcing them to abandon the vessel carrying 14,000 tonnes of Indian rice and risking their lives.

    The crew of the Farah III said the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam fired four times to force them out of the vessel after failing to explode it in choppy seas three days ago.

    Skipper R Abdullah told reporters here after arriving from the rebel-held north of the island to speak of their harrowing experience at the hands of the Tigers who arrived in six boats and boarded the vessel.

    "First they tried to set up a bomb and explode the anchor cable and when it failed they ordered us to weigh anchor," Abdullah told reporters here. He alleged the Tigers dismantled and removed all radio communication equipment and radar from the vessel.

    He rejected Tiger claims that they were actually helping the crew who had developed engine trouble after setting from a South Indian port on 15 December.

    "They did not try to help," Abdullah said. "But they opened fire four times to scare my crew and force us into smaller boats," he said.

    A 30-year-old Egyptian second officer Shareef Mohamed Mustafa, who came before reporters in a wheel chair, said he suffered a back injury because of the Tiger action.

    "They pushed us on the floor boards. We were travelling at high speed. When the boat hit waves we were tossed about. I injured my back," he said.

    Sri Lanka's Navy said it knew the vessel had engine trouble and was trying to arrange a tug boat to tow it to a nearby port for repairs but the Tigers intercepted it while 17 miles away from the coast.

    "We could have prevented the LTTE capturing this foreign vessel but we did not move in out of consideration for the safety of the crew," navy spokesman Commodore S M Weerasekera said.

    About 40 foreign ships travel along the same route daily, he said.

    However, he advised foreign vessels to steer 40 to 50 nautical miles off Sri Lanka's north-eastern coast where Tigers are active.

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