Somali pirates have captured a Greek chemical tanker with 22 sailors and are commandeering it to a hideout in the north of the war-torn country, a maritime official said on Wednesday.
The Marshall Islands-flagged, Greek-owned vessel was seized on Monday, some 140 nautical miles south east of Bab El-Mandeb, the strait separating Yemen and Djibouti, said Andrew Mwangura, a Kenya-based maritime watcher.
The MT Liquid Velvet had 21 Filipinos and one Greek sailor on board. The pirates have not made any demands yet.
With the end of monsoon season, Somali gunmen are expected to venture into calmer seas where they have caused havoc in recent years, targeting vessels for ransom.
Two decades of lawlessness which has carved up Somalia into mini-fiefdoms ruled by gunmen and militia has encouraged piracy.
At least 47 foreign vessels and more than 500 sailors are held by pirates, according to Ecoterra International, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) monitoring maritime activity in the region.
A pirate who gave his name as Khalif confirmed the attack.
“We have hijacked the tanker and it is due to anchor near the shores of Garad,” Khalif told Reuters by telephone from the pirate haven of Dhanane.
Piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean costs the world economy billions of dollars a year. British Prime Minister David Cameron has said British merchant ships off the coast of Somalia will soon be allowed to carry armed guards.
Pirates operating from the Somali coast have raked in millions of dollars in ransoms from hijacked ships, including oil tankers. — AFP-Reuters