(Updates with confirmation of hijacking, adds details)
By Bappa Majumdar
NEW DELHI, March 30 (Reuters) - India said it is trying to trace the whereabouts of nearly 100 sailors on seven Indian vessels taken captive by Somali pirates off the African coast.
“The sailors in small trade boats, known as dhows, have been taken captive over the past few days and we are trying to find more about their fate,” Captain M.M. Saggi, a shipping official, told Reuters from Mumbai.
“We are trying to contact all the owners of the missing vessels and find more about their identity,” Saggi added.
According to initial information, the Indian vessels, mostly from the western state of Gujarat, were on their way to the United Arab Emirates from Somalia, when they were attacked by the pirates, who seized the boats.
Crew members of an Indian vessel, released by Somali pirates this week, told authorities on Tuesday that several vessels with Indian sailors had been hijacked by pirates in the last few days, India’s navy said.
“Since this is a potential hostage situation, we are not taking any chances. We are very closely monitoring the situation,” said Commander P.V.S. Satish, an Indian Navy official.
India’s Navy has a warship stationed near the Gulf of Aden and it has thwarted dozens of hijacking attempts and escorted vessels passing through the region regularly.
Somali pirates regularly attack Indian vessels and this month Indian navy commandos thwarted a suspected pirate attack on a Greek bulk carrier off the Indian coast.
Somali pirates are seizing ships as far as the Mozambique Channel and off the coast of India, a senior U.S. admiral said last week.
The pirates have stepped up attacks in recent months, making tens of millions of dollars in ransom from seizing ships in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden. (Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Jerry Norton)