LONDON – A cargo ship and a chemical tanker have both been hijacked by pirates in the perilous waters off the coast of Somalia, bringing to four the number of ships seized in the past week, officials said Saturday.
The multiple hijackings indicate that piracy remains a serious problem a year after an international naval armada began deploying off Somalia to protect shipping.
The British-flagged Asian Glory was taken late Friday roughly 600 miles east of Somalia, said Commander John Harbour, a spokesman with the European Union task force charged with combating piracy off Somalia.
The same day, the Singaporean-flagged Pramoni, a chemical tanker with a crew of 24, was seized by pirates in the heavily defended Gulf of Aden, one of the world's busiest waterways.
Harbour said the Asian Glory's crew of 25 — from Ukraine, Bulgaria, India and Romania — appeared to be safe and that the pirates had not yet made contact with the ship's owner, Zodiac Management Agencies.
"The standard procedure for the pirates is to get the ship back to their stronghold and then contact the owner," he said. "I don't know yet where the ship is bound."
Somali pirates have hijacked more than 80 ships in the past two years, with many of the seizures earning the pirates multi-million-dollar ransoms. Pirates now hold 14 vessels and close to 300 crew members.
Harbour said the Asian Glory was headed for, but had not yet entered, the internationally recognized travel corridor patrolled by the European Union when it was hijacked.
Officials said the Pramoni was traveling east toward India when it was seized. The ship's master radioed that the crew — from Indonesia, China, Nigeria and Vietnam — was safe. The vessel is now also heading toward Somalia.
A spokesman for Zodiac confirmed the Asian Glory hijacking and said Saturday the crew's families were being notified. The company said it would limit the information it released out of concern for the crew's safety.
Zodiac also owns a chemical tanker, the St. James Park, that was hijacked Monday. A statement on the company's Web site indicated Saturday that the vessel is now anchored off the coast of Somalia.
The company said it has not yet been contacted by the pirates holding the St. James Park and its 26-person crew.
Three hours after that hijacking, a Panamanian-flagged carrier with 19 crew members was seized by pirates off the southern coast of Somalia. The ship is managed in Greece and was carrying fertilizer from the U.S. to India.