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KUWAIT — A U.S. Navy ship is “shadowing” a hijacked Japanese-owned ship off the coast of Somalia after another American warship sank two skiffs used by the pirates two days ago, a Navy official said Tuesday.

Armed pirates took over the Golden Nori near the Horn of Africa on Sunday, the Navy official said. A U.S. Navy ship operating in the area responded to a distress call from the cargo ship before sinking the pirates’ two small boats.

The U.S. ship fired warning shots before unloading its 25 mm machine guns at the skiffs, which were tied to the cargo ship, the official said. The small boats, similar to fiberglass Boston Whalers, sank.

Sinking the skiffs cuts the risk of the pirates slipping away and escaping from the hijacked cargo vessel, the official added.

CNN reported Tuesday that the USS Porter was the ship that fired upon the skiffs and the USS Arleigh Burke is now pursuing the commandeered vessel. CNN also reported that the cargo ship is carrying benzene, attributing the information to unnamed military officials.

Benzene is a highly flammable chemical used to make such things as plastics, nylon and other synthetic fibers, according to the Web site of the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nobody is believed to have been injured on the cargo ship, and the pirates did not fire back.

It’s uncertain what steps American warships and their allies plan to do next.

The Navy has not put out an official release on the actions taken against the skiffs or the pursuit of the pirate-controlled cargo vessel.

American warships are part of a Pakistani-led coalition patrolling the area off Somalia.

The U.S. Navy and coalition ships operating in the area were involved in a similar situation July 2. Pirates seized a Danish merchant ship, and the USS Carter Hall fired upon and sank three of the pirates’ skiffs. The Navy was forced to halt its pursuit after the merchant ship entered Somali waters.

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