Pirates hijacked a cargo ship with 29 Chinese sailors aboard in the Arabian Sea and told the shipping company they were taking it toward Somalia, Chinese officials and state media said Saturday.

The attack came just two days after another 17 Chinese sailors returned home after being held by Somali pirates for four months. It also highlights the spread of piracy to areas outside the Gulf of Aden, a hijacking hot spot now patrolled by international forces.

An official with the China Marine Rescue Center, surnamed Yang, said the Panama-flagged ship Yuan Xiang was attacked Friday night. The Ningbo Hongyuan Ship Management Company reported the pirate attack to the rescue center just before midnight and said the pirates were taking the ship toward Somalia, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.

A man answering the phone Saturday at the company said they were still trying to contact the ship.

Xinhua said the attack occurred in an area outside the region where China's navy is part of a multination force working together to patrol the Gulf of Aden — one of the world's busiest shipping lanes — and other waters off Somalia where pirates operate.

Raids by Somali pirates accounted for more than half of the 406 sea attacks last year — the highest total in six years.

The jump came despite the deployment at the end of 2008 of the first international force specifically to counter Somali pirates, the European Union Naval Force.

While worldwide pirate attacks fell 18 percent in the first half of 2010 from a year ago, the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center in July said pirates were shifting their attacks outside the Gulf of Aden zone now patrolled by the multination force.

It said attacks in the Somali basin — the country's coastal waters, excluding the Gulf of Aden — and the wider Indian Ocean rose to 51 in the first half of this year from 44 a year ago. At the same time, attacks in the Gulf of Aden dropped to 33 from 86 a year ago.

On Wednesday, another 17 Chinese sailors returned home after being held more than four months by Somali pirates, who newspaper reports said gave the sailors only one meal of boiled potatoes per day.

The Beijing Daily said the pirates were paid an undisclosed amount of money in ransom after the Shanghai-based ship's owner mortgaged his home and all his shipping company shares to raise funds.