NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Somali pirates with automatic weapons seized a cargo ship off Africa's east coast and are holding its 26 crew members hostage, anti-piracy officials said Thursday.
The pirates captured the Panamanian-flagged MV Al Khaliq some 200 miles (320 kilometers) west of the Seychelles islands early Thursday, a statement from the European Union's anti-piracy task force said.
Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, said the pirates attacked the Indian-managed ship with automatic weapons.
Choong said the hijacking demonstrated a new trend for Somali pirates: actively targeting vessels very far off the coast during clear weather. He said it was the third such hijacking in a week. Pirates hijacked a Singapore-flagged bulk container last Thursday and a Chinese cargo ship on Monday.
Choong said the latest attacks brought the number of attacks off the coast of Somalia and the Gulf of Aden to 178 this year, with 36 ships hijacked. He said pirates are holding seven ships and 165 crew members.
The EU task force, Operation Atalanta, said pirates also unsuccessfully attempted to hijack the Italian-flagged MV Jolly Rosso off the Kenyan coast on Thursday.
The Gulf of Aden is one of the busiest and most dangerous waterways in the world. Somalia has been ravaged by violence and anarchy since 1991 and piracy has flourished off its coast.
Somali pirates seized more than 40 vessels in 2008, pocketing an estimated $30 million in ransom.
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