Last updated: 26 March, 2012

Somali pirates hijack Iran cargo ship in Maldives

Somali pirates seized an Iranian-owned cargo ship and its 23-strong crew in the first hijacking within Maldivian territory, a senior security official said.

The vessel identified as MV. Eglantine, had been seized off the north-western Hoarafush island in the Indian Ocean atoll nation of the Maldives, the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF) said.

“The incident is seven miles inside our Exclusive Economic Zone,” MNDF chief spokesman Colonel Abdul Raheem Latheef told AFP. “The ship appears to be drifting and we are sending our vessels to the area.”

He said the Maldivian authorities were coordinating their efforts with the naval authorities of neighbouring India.

The MNDF was alerted to the hijacking by the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System, the emergency communications system for global shipping, which maintains an operation in the Maldives, the Maldivian spokesman said.

In November, the Maldives announced it was working with Sri Lanka and India on a strategy to deal with Somali pirates. The Maldives had arrested 37 Somali pirates who were drifting near the archipelago.

Sri Lanka has also arrested an unspecified number of Somali pirates.

Two decades of lawlessness have carved up Somalia into mini-fiefdoms ruled by gunmen and militia, encouraging rampant piracy.

At least 40 vessels and more than 400 hostages were still being held in or just off Somalia at the end of last year, according to the Ecoterra International group which monitors piracy in the region.