NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Somali pirates hijacked a Panamanian-flagged cargo ship with 23 crew onboard during an early morning raid Monday, the European Union Naval Force said.

The crew onboard the 17,300-ton MV Suez are from Egypt, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and India, the force said in statement.

"The MV Suez reported being under small arms fire from a pirate attack and minutes later she reported pirates on board," the statement said. "Immediately after the first report a helicopter was directed to the ship but pirates had already taken over the command of the vessel."

The ship, which is carrying bags of cement, was traveling in the Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor, a stretch of water patrolled by a naval coalition. Navies say the ocean is too big for them to stop all pirate attacks.

Pirate attacks have gone down recently because of monsoon weather off the Somali coast. At least 17 ships and hundreds of crew members are still being held, including a British couple who were seized from their yacht last October.