Three sailors from the Seychelles have been held hostage by Somali pirates since their catamaran was hijacked in late February, the Indian Ocean archipelago's police chief said on Thursday.
The Seychelles authorities "are now satisfied that the catamaran that left Mahe last month has been hijacked and is currently in Somali waters," Ernest Quatre said in a statement.
"Contact has been established with the kidnappers and discussions to secure the release of the hostages are ongoing. The objective of the negotiating team is for the safe return of all three hostages," the statement said.
All three crewmen are Seychelles citizens but only two have been identified. Their catamaran left the archipelago on February 28 and was headed for Madagascar. Andrew Mwangura, the Kenya-based head of the East African Seafarers Assistance Programme, said in a statement that the boat had been spotted off the coast of Somalia's northern breakaway state of Puntland.
He said the yacht "is presently under tight security at anchor next to Garacad." The Seychelles police said that coastguard patrols would be stepped up in response to the attack.
"The government has responded to the situation and has ordered that the national security forces be deployed to patrol the waters within our exclusive economic zone," the statement said.
Ransom-hunting Somali pirates attacked more than 130 merchant ships in the region last year, an increase of more than 200 percent on 2007, according to the International Maritime Bureau.
The number and success rate of pirate attacks has declined slightly since the start of the year, due to unfavourable seas and increased foreign naval presence in the Gulf of Aden. str-jmm/db Somalia-piracy-shipping-Seychelles.