Armed gunmen have hijacked a cargo ship carrying 23 crew off the coast of Somalia, the latest attack near the lawless African country, a South Korean official said Sunday.
The 20,000-ton-class ship, owned by a Japanese shipping company and registered in Panama, was seized by gunmen last evening in waters 155 kms east of Somalia's Aden port, a South Korean Foreign Ministry official said, on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the record.
The condition and safety of the crew were not immediately known.
The official said he has no information on whether the gunmen were asking for ransom for the sailors' release. The official said the 23 abducted sailors include South Koreans and Filipinos.
Somalia, which has had no functioning government since 1991, is the world's top piracy hotspot. It is located along the Gulf of Aden, which connects the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean and is one of the world's busiest waterways with some 20,000 ships passing through it each year.
Somali pirates are trained fighters, often dressed in military fatigues, using speed boats equipped with satellite phones and GPS equipment. They are typically armed with automatic weapons, anti-tank rockets launchers and various types of grenades.
In October, 22 sailors - eight South Koreans and 14 citizens of Myanmar - were released following a month of captivity after their South Korean shipping company paid a ransom to Somali pirates.
South Korea has said it is considering dispatching navy vessels to join several other countries' warships in patrolling the waters off Somalia.