KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Somali pirates have hijacked a UK-flagged chemical tanker in the Gulf of Aden, the first merchant vessel to be seized in the area in nearly six months, a maritime watchdog said Tuesday.
Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau’s piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur, said the St. James Park tanker issued a distress message late Monday, seeking help after it was attacked by pirates.
He said the distress call was picked up by the Greece rescue and coordination center in Piraeus, which in turn relayed the message to the IMB and other agencies.
The IMB failed to establish communication with the vessel but was informed by the ship owner early Tuesday that the tanker has been hijacked, he said. It was believed to have been heading to Thailand with 26 crew members when it was seized, he added.
Choong said pirates last hijacked a Yemeni fishing boat in the gulf on Dec. 18 but this was the first merchant vessel to have been taken since July 8.
The Gulf of Aden, one of the busiest and most dangerous waterways in the world, is patrolled by an international naval coalition, which has managed to sharply reduce the number of hijackings in the area. Pirates have to a large extent switched focus to the eastern and southern coast of Somalia.
No further details were immediately available as the IMB is still waiting for the official report.
Choong said it brought the number of attacks in the Gulf of Aden and off Somalia to 213 this year, with 46 vessels hijacked and 11 still in the hands of pirates with 244 crew, he added.
Somalia has been ravaged by violence and anarchy since 1991, and piracy has flourished off its coast.