, TOKYO, Oct 13 – A Japanese cargo ship hijacked in Kenyan waters at the weekend has been located anchored off a Somali port town regarded as a pirate stronghold, a Japanese media report said Wednesday.
The whereabouts of the 20 Filipino crew of the Panama-flagged 14,000-ton Izumi were unclear, Kyodo News said citing a European military official.
The merchant vessel had sent a distress signal early Sunday local time from waters off Kenya\’s port city of Mombasa, and crew on another ship in the area later reported that pirates had boarded the Izumi.
The ship had been carrying steel products from Japan via Singapore towards Mombasa, said its Tokyo-based operator NYK-Hinode Line.
Japan\’s transport minister Sumio Mabuchi on Tuesday said Tokyo was "nervously" watching developments while cooperating with the International Maritime Organization in dealing with the suspected pirate attack.
Japan last year joined the United States, China and more than 20 other countries in the maritime operation against pirates who have attacked ships off the Horn of Africa, a key route leading to the Suez Canal.
Tokyo has also dispatched two maritime surveillance aircraft and scores of military personnel to beef up its anti-piracy mission, although their operations are restricted by the country\’s pacifist constitution.
Japan\’s Maritime Self-Defense Force has deployed two destroyers to escort ships in the pirate-infested gulf, and said last month that it had so far provided safe passage for more than 1,000 ships.
The EU anti-piracy mission said recently that Somali pirates were holding 17 ships with 369 hostages.