SEOUL, Apr 21 – A South Korean container ship has been attacked by pirates in the Indian Ocean and is believed to have been hijacked, Seoul officials said Thursday.
The 75,000-ton Hanjin Tianjin with 14 South Koreans and six Indonesians on board reported an attack at 5.15 am Thursday Korean time (2015 GMT Wednesday), Seoul-based Hanjin Shipping said in a statement.
"We believe that the ship has been hijacked," said foreign ministry spokesman Cho Byung-Jae.
The South Korean destroyer Choi Young, part of a multinational force patrolling pirate-infested waters off Somalia, was racing towards the scene, he said.
Yonhap news agency quoted unnamed government officials as saying that smoke was going up from the ship when a helicopter from the destroyer reached the site.
But pirates and their boat were not seen on the deck or around the ship, it said.
Hanjin said it had lost contact with the crew since the attack 400 kilometres (250 miles) east of the Yemeni island of Socotra, near the Gulf of Aden.
The vessel, which can carry 6,500 containers, was sailing from Europe to Singapore when it sent an emergency message, said South Korea\’s largest shipping operator.
The ship had been stationary since then and not responded to calls, a Hanjin spokesman said, adding the crew might have locked themselves in a special room known as a citadel and built to protect crewmen from attackers.
South Korean navy commandos in January staged a dramatic raid on a ship captured by Somali pirates in the Arabian Sea and rescued all 21 crew members.
Five captured pirates have been brought to South Korea and face charges of attempted murder and robbery in court hearings next month.
That raid came two months after a South Korean shipping firm reportedly paid a record $9 million for the release of its supertanker and 24 sailors held by Somali pirates for seven months.
Piracy has surged off the lawless east African nation in recent years.
Despite the increased international naval presence, piracy hit an all-time high in the first three months of 2011 with 142 attacks worldwide, the International Maritime Bureau said in a report.