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Pirates hijack tanker off Somali coast

  • Pirates holding North Korean crew of chemical tanker attacked off Somali coast
  • MV Theresa VIII is owned by a Virgin Islands firm and operated from Singapore
  • First nine months of 2009 saw more pirate attacks than all of last year
  • More than half were carried out off the east coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden
  • Pirates
  • Somalia
  • Gulf of Aden

(CNN) -- Pirates off Somalia's coast have hijacked a chemical tanker with a North Korean crew, European naval forces reported.

The MV Theresa VIII, owned by a Virgin Islands company and operated from Singapore, was seized in the Indian Ocean on Monday, according to a statement from the European Union Naval Force Somalia, whose charge includes combating maritime piracy.

Theresa VIII, carrying a crew of 28 North Koreans, was heading for Mombasa, Kenya, but was hijacked in the south Somali Basin, about 180 miles northwest of the Seychelles, the statement said.

The ship was turned around and is now heading north.

Somalia's transitional government, which has a tenuous grip on power, has been unable to stop pirates, many of whom are based in the country's port cities. That has prompted Western countries to step up maritime patrols.

Pirate attacks off the coast of east Africa have significantly increased this year, according to the International Maritime Bureau, which monitors shipping crimes. But successful attacks have declined as a result of the strong presence of international monitors.

The first nine months of this year saw more pirate attacks than all of last year, the bureau reported Wednesday. From January 1 till September 30, pirates worldwide mounted 306 attacks, compared with 293 in all of 2008, it said. More than half of this year's attacks were carried out by suspected Somali pirates off the east coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden, a major shipping route between Yemen and Somalia.

Of those attacks, Somali pirates successfully hijacked 32 vessels and took 533 hostages. Eight others were wounded, four more killed and one is missing, the bureau said.