MOMBASA, Kenya — Undeterred by U.S. and French hostage rescues that killed seven bandits, Somali pirates brazenly hijacked three more ships in the Gulf of Aden, the key waterway that's become the focal point of the world's fight against piracy.
The latest trophy for the pirates was the M.V. Irene E.M., a Greek-managed bulk carrier sailing from the Middle East to South Asia, said Noel Choong, who heads the International Maritime Bureau's piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur.
The Irene was attacked and seized in the middle of the night Tuesday — a rare tactic for the pirates.
U.S. Navy Lt. Nathan Christensen, spokesman for the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, said the Irene was flagged in the Caribbean island nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and carried 23 Filipino crew. Choong reported a crew of 21, and there was no immediate way to reconcile the figures.
A maritime security contractor, speaking on condition of anonymity because it is a sensitive security issue, said the ship put out a distress signal "to say they had a suspicious vessel approaching. That rapidly turned into an attack and then a hijacking."
"They tried to call in support on the emergency channels, but they never got any response," the contractor said
On Monday, Somali pirates also seized two Egyptian fishing boats in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia's northern coast, according to Egypt's Foreign Ministry, which said there were 18 to 24 Egyptians onboard at the time.
Choong said pirate attacks this year had risen to 77, with 18 of those ships hijacked and 16 vessels with 285 crew still remaining in pirates' hands. Each boat carries the potential of million-dollar ransom.