Somali pirates seized on Monday a Panamanian freighter with 23 crew from Egypt, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the Gulf of Aden, European anti-piracy forces said.
Early in the morning, the freighter indicated it was captured "under small arms fire from a pirate attack and minutes later she reported pirates on board," the European Union NAVFOR Somalia mission said in a statement. A helicopter was despatched "but pirates had already taken over the command of the vessel," it added of the 17,300-tonne freighter.
Attempts to make contact with the vessel failed, the statement added. Foreign naval powers have since 2008 deployed dozens of warships in a bid to secure the Gulf of Aden, a crucial maritime route leading to the Suez Canal through which tens of thousands of merchant vessels transit each year.
Naval missions have boasted success in curbing attacks but the number of hijacked ships and detained seafarers remains at one of its highest levels since Somali piracy surged in 2007.
On Thursday, Somali pirates released a Turkish-owned cargo ship and its crew of 21 people nearly four months after seizing the vessel. Unofficial figures show that 2009 was the most prolific year yet for Somali pirates, with more than 200 attacks - including 68 successful hijackings - and a total in ransoms paid believed to exceed 50 million dollars.