Pirates captured a Panama-flagged cargo ship just 10 miles from its port on Monday. The ship was last reported being sailed through the Gulf of Aden toward Somalia.
The attack comes after seven ships were hijacked in the Indian Ocean this weekend and underscores the persistence of pirates even in the face of increased international patroling and private security measures undertaken by cargo ships.
The ship was carrying mixed mechanical equipment toward the United Arab Emirates when attacked, according to an EU Naval Force release. The 24 members of the crew are from Yemen, India, Ghana, Sudan, Pakistan, and the Philippines, the Associated Press reports.
IN PICTURES: Somali pirates
"Pirate attacks have continued to climb despite the presence of three dozen warships off the Somali coast. The area of ocean where ships are vulnerable to pirate attack is too vast to effectively patrol," according to the AP.Somali pirates have taken in tens of billions in ransom over the past few years through hijackings, and on Sunday demanded $3 million for a North Korea-flagged ship taken last month, Voice of America reports.
Commercial cargo ships are increasingly taking to arming themselves with private security, The Christian Science Monitor reported last week. Private security guards shot a Somali pirate dead last week, which was the first recorded instance of its kind. US and French navies have shot and killed Somali pirates before, but the increasingly violent response to piracy may spiral.
“This could be the beginning of a violent period,” E.J. Hogendoorn, head of the Horn of Africa program at the International Crisis Group’s office in Nairobi, told the Monitor. “If [the pirates] see guys with shiny barrels pointing at them, they might fire first.”
But as the Monitor reported, some innovative firms are developing nonlethal measures to deter pirates, such as a 300-meter rope that tangles propellers and a laser that causes temporary blindness.
Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991, when then-President Siad Barre was overthrown. Piracy has been a persistent problem since, given that near-anarchic Somalia, which is also battling an Islamist insurgency, is not able to control its territory and seizing ships is a lucrative venture.
Somali pirates have widened their range to the farthest it has ever been, operating as far south as Mozambique in southern Africa and near the coast of India, Reuters reported. "The entire Indian Ocean is becoming a problem of piracy," Adm. Mark Fitzgerald, who commands the US naval forces in Europe and Africa, said at a London forum last week.
In addition to piracy attacks for ransom, the US last week warned ships traveling off the coast of Yemen of the risk of Al Qaeda attacks, Reuters adds. The instability in Yemen causes US ships to potentially face attacks similar to the suicide bombing that killed 17 soldiers in 2000 on board the USS warship Cole.