Somali pirates have seized a 31,000-ton German grain carrier in the Gulf of Aden but the ship's 17 crew members are unhurt, according to a Kenyan maritime official.
The latest hijacking came after NATO extended it anti-piracy mission
The US Navy's 5th Fleet confirmed that the ship "Patriot" was seized 300 kilometers south-east of the Yemeni coastal city Muqalla. The freighter was sailing under under the flag of Malta.
"I hear it was taken early this morning," said Andrew Mwangura, director of the Mombasa-based East African Seafarers Assistance Program, in a statement released on Saturday.
Ministry officials in Berlin could not confirm the reports but said investigations were under way.
Piracy attacks off the eastern African coast have escalated in the past few weeks despite the presence of a flotilla of foreign navy warships in the region.
Pirates there are holding more than 250 hostages and have made millions of dollars through ransoms, driving up insurance costs. Some shipping lines now opt to use a longer and more expensive route around the Cape of Good Hope to avoid capture.
NATO extends anti-piracy mission
The attack comes just a day after NATO decided to extend its anti-piracy work off the coast of Somalia.
"NATO has decided to continue the counter-piracy activities off Somalia in the Gulf of Aden," said a spokesman for the transatlantic alliance at its Brussels headquarters.
NATO ships will continue to patrol the Gulf of Aden
Four vessels from NATO's Standing Naval Maritime Group One have been conducting anti-piracy work and escorting merchant ships, including some carrying food aid for Somalia, since last month.
The naval ships were due to make courtesy port visits to Karachi in Pakistan, Singapore and Perth in Western Australia, but the last two visits have been cancelled, the spokeswoman said.
They now will break off to visit Karachi on April 26-27 but will return to continue their counter-piracy work until June 6.
"With the great increase in pirate attacks and the ensuing international attention, NATO's recent contribution to counter-piracy has been significant," the spokeswoman said.
Pirates attacked over 130 merchant ships in the Gulf of Aden last year – more than double last year's total, according to the International Maritime Bureau.
Attacks increased tenfold in the first three months of 2009 compared to the same period last year.