New Delhi: Somali pirates have hijacked seven cargo vessels with a combined crew of at least 97 Indian sailors in the treacherous waters off Somalia over the last week, a shipping association said on Tuesday.
According to Ashok Bhanushali of the Kutch-headquartered Cargo Vessels Association, the Indian authorities had been alerted but there had been no ransom demand so far.
This was confirmed by Ahmed Haji Hasan, whose vessel was taken over Sunday. While Indian officials put the number of abducted sailors at 97, Bhanushali said it totalled around 140.
The Directorate General of Shipping in Mumbai identified the seven Indian vessels as MSV Al Kadri, MSV Al Ijaz, MSV Faize-e-Osman, MSV Sea Queen, MSV NarNarayan, MSV Vishwa Kalyan and MSV Krishna Jyot.
They were presumed to have been hijacked off the Gulf of Aden and Somalia region.
The abducted Indians are said to be from Gujarat's Kutch and Saurashtra regions.
While seven of the cargo vessels were hijacked over last week, an eighth vessel, Arzoo, was picked up almost a fortnight ago. Arzoo was found abandoned after it ran of out fuel. The crew were rescued and are now in Port Victoria.
Of the seven vessels, six are from Gujarat. Three are from Mandvi and one each from Bhuj, Gandhidham and Veraval. The seventh vessel is reported to be from Mumbai.
'They have kept the vessels in mid-sea near a port in Somalia,' vessel owner Ahmed Haji Hasan said, adding that the crew members on board were not being allowed to speak to the owners by the pirates.
His vessel was carrying general cargo from Dubai and was on its way to Mogadishu, the Somali capital.
Another cargo vessel, Al Kadri, was coming from Mogadishu with charcoal, he added.
Bhanushali said he thought that these cargo vessels were commandeered for use to capture bigger ships.
'Our people are in touch with the director general of shipping and the naval authorities. We hope something positive comes out of it,' he added.
According to informed sources, a meeting of traders and vessel owners was held in Dubai. A delegation is on its way to Somalia, whose pirates are known to take huge ransoms to free hijacked vessels and captured sailors.
Naval patrolling in the pirate-infested seas off the Gulf of Aden has been intensified.
'These cargo vessels must have been commandeered for use as decoys and for camouflaged movement by pirates in the intensively patrolled waters,' said an Indian Coast Guard source.
A worried Indian government Tuesday banned the movement of its mechanised sailing vessels to the south and west of Salalah in Oman and Male with immediate effect.