Somali pirates seized a Greek-owned vessel full of wheat in the Indian Ocean and threatened to hand three Spanish captives to the families of two suspected gunmen being held in Spain.
The Marshall Islands-flagged bulk carrier MV Delvina was hijacked with seven Ukrainians and 14 Filipinos on board, the EU anti-piracy naval force said.
Pirates have plundered the busy shipping lanes off the coast of Somalia for years.
Foreign warships from 16 nations are patrolling the area to try and prevent hijacks, but the sea gangs are hunting for ships far into the Indian Ocean.
Andrew Mwangura of the Kenya-based East Africa Seafarers’ Association said the MV Delvina was seized some 250 nautical miles northwest of the island of Madgascar.
A spokesperson for the Greek Merchant Marine Ministry said the MV Delvina was sailing from the Mediterranean to the Kenyan port of Mombasa and that the company Meadway Shipping and Trading confirmed the incident.
While there was a lull in hijackings during monsoon rains, pirates have stepped up attacks in the past few weeks and are now holding some 10 vessels and at least 187 hostages.
Turkish navy commandos detained five pirates trying to hijack a Greek boat in the Gulf of Aden, the Turkish military said.
The pirate gangs some made up of former fishermen angered by the presence of foreign fishing fleets in Somali waters have made tens of millions of dollars in ransoms.
While hostages are usually released unharmed once a ransom has been paid, some kidnappings have taken different turns.
Pirates said they had taken three male hostages from a Spanish fishing vessel ashore and may hand them to the families of two suspected pirates being held by Spain.
The Spanish navy captured two Somalis in the Indian Ocean shortly after pirates overran the tuna boat Alakrana on October 2 and took its 36 crew hostage. The two suspects are set to face trial in Spain on charges of terrorism and robbery.
Somali pirates have said previously they will not negotiate a ransom for the release of the ship until their two colleagues have been freed by the Spanish authorities.
“Our friends have taken three Spanish males from the Spanish ship to land,” pirate Hassan told Reuters by phone from the pirate haven of Haradheere.
“They are still in our hands and they have already been taken out of Haradheere by car. I will not tell you where we are taking them, but we may hand them over to the families of our two friends held by Spain in revenge,” he said.
Tuna catches in the south-western Indian Ocean fell by as much as 30 percent last year as pirates blocked access to some of the world’s richest yellowfin tuna waters off Somalia.
Pirates and residents also said yesterday the captain of a Thai fishing vessel had been taken to a hospital in Haradheere after being shot, possibly when the ship was seized on October 29.
“Our friends injured the Thai ship captain who tried to attack our colleague with a pistol,” Hassan said.
“We brought him to Haradheere hospital where he is being treated. As usual, we never harm anyone who does not harm us.”