Pirates hijacked a Greek-owned bulk carrier on Tuesday in a rare night-time seizure off Somalia’s coast, the latest attack on commercial shipping in the vital waterways.
The brazen capture of the MV Irene E.M. hours before dawn was a clear sign the sea gangs planned to continue their crime wave despite two raids in recent days by US and French Special Forces which killed five pirates, Reuters reports.
NATO Lieutenant Commander Alexandre Fernandes said the Portuguese warship NRP Corte-Real had received a distress call from the St. Vincent and the Grenadines-flagged merchant ship as it travelled through the Gulf of Aden.
“There was only three minutes between the alarm and the hijack,” Fernandes told Reuters aboard the warship.
“(The pirates) attacked at night, which was very unusual. They were using the moonlight as it’s still quite bright.”
The Kenya-based regional East African Seafarers’ Assistance Programme, which tracks piracy, said the 22 crew were unharmed,
The Greek merchant marine ministry said the Irene E.M.’s crew were all Filipinos. The vessel was sailing from Jordan to India when it was attacked. Its Piraeus-based owners were not immediately available for comment.
Heavily armed gunmen from chaotic Somalia have run amok through the busy shipping lanes of the Indian Ocean and strategic Gulf of Aden, capturing dozens of vessels and making off with millions of dollars in ransoms.
NATO officials said a Canadian warship had sent a helicopter to investigate what was happening.
“There are hostages so now we will shadow and monitor the situation,” Fernandes said.
Foreign navies are patrolling the high seas off Somalia. But the pirates have continued to evade capture, driving up insurance rates and defying the world’s most powerful militaries.
US Navy snipers aboard a U.S. destroyer freed an American ship captain on Sunday by killing three Somali pirates holding him hostage in a lifeboat, ending a five-day standoff.
Two more pirates died on Friday when French forces raided a yacht that had been seized.
A French hostage was also killed.
Some fear the bloody assaults by Washington and Paris to free their hostages may raise the risk of future bloodshed. The pirates have vowed to take revenge on U.S. and French citizens.
So far, the sea gangs have generally treated their captives well in the hope of fetching big ransom payouts. Piracy is lucrative in chaotic Somalia, where the brigands armed with assault rifles and grenade launchers have thrived.