Warship deployed to Arabian Sea as ships 'hijacked'

Handout image of the South Korean cargo ship the Hanjin Tianjin, believed to have been hijacked by pirates. AFP PHOTO / HO / Hanjin Shipping
Image caption Between them the vessels are believed to be carrying 41 crew members

Two cargo ships are suspected to have been hijacked by pirates in the Arabian Sea, officials say.

A South Korean warship is racing towards the scene where the 75,000-tonne Hanjin Tianjin lost contact after emitting a distress call.

An Italian vessel, the Rosalia D'Amato, is confirmed to have been seized about 650km (400 miles) off Oman's coast.

Piracy in the region is flourishing despite efforts by patrolling multinational forces.

It hit an all-time high in the first three months of 2011 with 142 attacks across the world, the International Maritime Bureau said in a report this month.

Contact lost

The Hanjin Tianjin sent an emergency message at 0500 Thursday Korean time (2015 Wednesday GMT), when it was about 400km (250 miles) east of the Yemeni island of Socotra, said Seoul-based Hanjin Shipping in a statement.

The vessel was carrying a crew of 14 South Koreans and six Indonesians and was reportedly en route to Singapore from Europe.

Government officials said they believed it had been hijacked.

A South Korean destroyer, the Choi Young, which is part of international naval forces attempting to police shipping in the area, has been dispatched, officials said.

The Rosalia D'Amato - an Italian cargo ship of about the same size as the Hanjin Tianjin - is confirmed to have been seized.

Carlo Miccio of Perseveranza, the Naples-base company which operates the ship, told agencies he had spoken to the captain who had told him the crew of 21 - including six Italians - were "okay, relatively speaking".

"He was trying to give me more information but the pirates understood what he was doing and they cut the line," he told AFP news agency.

Mr Miccio said tracking equipment showed the ship - which was on its way from Brazil to Iran with a cargo of soybeans - was "almost stationary".

There had been no demand for ransom as yet, he said.

'Mother ship' attacked

International naval forces have been battling the pirates, many of whom are based in lawless Somalia.

Witnesses and pirates near the Somali town of Hobyo have told AFP of an attack on a suspected pirate "mother ship" just off the coast.

At least four people died and six were wounded in the attack, which took place at about 1900 local time (1700 GMT) on Wednesday, they said.

A pirate and a rights group told the agency helicopters were used in the assault.

The pirate said the boat was being used to ferry supplies to a hijacked vessel in the vicinity.

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