Hijacked South Korean ship`s crew safe: Ministry

The vessel had been sailing from the United Arab Emirates towards Sri Lanka.

Last Updated: Jan 16, 2011, 14:30 PM IST

Seoul: All 21 crew members of a South Korean cargo ship being held by suspected Somali pirates after a hijacking in the Indian Ocean on Saturday have been confirmed safe, a Seoul official said on Sunday.

"The crewmen have been confirmed safe for now, with no unusual signs in their (physical) conditions... the ship`s location has been identified," the Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

The 11,500-tonne chemical freighter, named Samho Jewelry, was carrying eight South Koreans, two Indonesians and 11 crew from Myanmar when it was hijacked in the waters between Oman and India, the ministry said in a statement.

The vessel had been sailing from the United Arab Emirates towards Sri Lanka, it said.

The spokesman declined to give more details, including the current location of the ship, citing safety concerns for the crew during negotiations.

"We are discussing responses with related government agencies," he said.

Special task force teams have been set up at Seoul`s Foreign Ministry and the South Korean embassy in Kenya.

According to the European Union`s anti-piracy mission, the ship is owned by a Norwegian company and operated by South Korea`s Samho Shipping, based in the southern port city of Busan.

Saturday`s hijacking came about two months after a supertanker belonging to the same South Korean shipping company was released by Somali pirates, after being held for seven months.

The 300,000-tonne Samho Dream and its 24 crew -- five South Koreans and 19 Filipinos -- were released only after a ransom reported as a record USD 9 million was given to the pirates in a helicopter air drop.

Piracy has surged in the waters off lawless Somalia in recent years, and international warships patrol the area in an effort to clamp down on the problem.

After the latest hijacking, pirates now hold 29 vessels and 693 hostages off the coast of Somalia.

Bureau Report