, NAIROBI, Sep 29 – Somali pirates captured a Panama-flagged ship with 15 Indian crewmen early Wednesday off the Tanzanian coast, a maritime watchdog reported.
The MT Asphalt Venture was sailing to South Africa from the Kenyan port of Mombasa, said Ecoterra International, an organisation monitoring maritime activity in the region.
The vessel "is at present observed to have turned around and obviously is commandeered northwards to Somalia," Ecoterra said in a statement.
"Information from the ground says a pirate group… had captured the vessel and is heading towards Harardhere at the central Somali Indian Ocean coast."
Over the weekend, Somali pirates seized another Panama-flaggged cargo vessel off the lawless Horn of African state, but they abandoned it after its 12 Ukrainian crew locked themselves in the engine room and blocked the controls.
Foreign naval powers have deployed dozens of warships since 2008 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.
But pirates have gradually extended their area of operations, seizing ships as far east as the Maldives\’ territorial waters and as far south as the Mozambique Canal to hold them to ransom.
According to Ecoterra, the number of hijackings is at one of its highest ever levels, with 23 vessels and more than 400 seafarers held.
The MT Asphalt is owned by United Arab Emirates company Bitumen Invest and managed by a Mumbai-based firm.