MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somali pirates hijacked a Japanese-operated cargo ship off the coast of Kenya, the only successful seizure in a weekend of a dozen attempts, a maritime official said on Monday.
The Izumi, operated by NYK-Hinode Line Ltd, was carrying a 20-strong crew from the Philippines, the Japanese transport ministry said in Tokyo. The 14,000 tonne Panama-flagged ship was en route to Mombasa carrying a cargo of steel, the operator said in a statement.
The ministry said it lost touch with the ship on Sunday, while Ecoterra, an advocacy group that monitors piracy off the east African coast, said the ship was seized in Somali waters, quoting NATO officials.
Andrew Mwangura of the Kenya-based East African Seafarers Association said the ship was seized in the early hours of Monday and it may take a few days to get to the pirate lair of Hobyo in Somalia.
“No injuries were reported during the hijack which happened 80 nautical miles off Mombasa. There were a dozen unsuccessful attacks over the weekend,” Mwangura said.
Good weather, resulting in calm seas, was the main reason behind the high number of attacks in a single weekend, Mwangura said.
He said the pirates had moved most of their operations south in the waters off Kenya and Tanzania after increased patrols by foreign navies in the Gulf of Aden and the Somali Basin.
The EU NAVFOR Force Commander Rear Admiral Philippe Coindreau said there were no plans to extend the area covered by the forces’ operations.
“There is a huge area of operations that we are operating in, so we have no plans to extend it. There is no need for that so far,” he told reporters aboard the French warship De Grasse, which is in Dar es Salaam for a five-day visit.
“We will keep the pressure we are presently putting on pirate camps on the coast of Somalia and we are looking more in open seas.”
A Panama-flagged ship was seized in the last week of September while sailing in Tanzania’s territorial waters.
“There will be more attacks because this is their season now until the month of December,” he said by phone.
There have been at least 10 pirate attacks on ships operated or owned by Japanese companies so far this year.
Somali pirates are making tens of millions of dollars in ransoms from seizing ships, including tankers and dry bulkers, in the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, despite the efforts of foreign navies to clamp down on such attacks.