According to Kenya officials, pirates in Somalia hijacked a cargo ship with dozens of foreign crew members reportedly on board.
The attackers seized the ship late Monday in the waters off the war-battered capital, Mogadishu, said Paddy Ankunda, a Somalia spokesman for the African Union, which has peacekeepers at the city's port.
A cargo trader who works at the port said the ship was from South Korea, with 43 foreign crew members on board. The trader, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to feared reprisals from the pirates, said the ship had been carrying a load of sugar from India. Both spoke by telephone from Mogadishu. Further details were not immediately available.
An international watchdog reported this month that pirate attacks worldwide jumped 14 percent in the first nine months of 2007, with the biggest increases off the poorly policed waters of Somalia and Nigeria.
Reported attacks in Somalia rose rapidly to 26, up from eight a year earlier, the London-based International Maritime Bureau said through its piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. And some of those hijackings have turned deadly.
Somalia has had 16 years of violence and anarchy, and is now led by a government battling to establish authority even in the capital. Its coasts are virtually unpoliced.
Piracy off Somalia increased this year after Ethiopian forces backing Somali government troops ousted an Islamic militia in December, said Andrew Mwangura, program coordinator of the Seafarers Assistance Program which independently monitors piracy in the region.
During the six months that the Council of Islamic Courts ruled most of southern Somalia, where Somali pirates are based, piracy abated, Mwangura said.
At one point, the Islamic group said it was sending scores of fighters to crack down on pirates there. Islamic fighters even stormed a hijacked, UAE-registered ship and recaptured it after a gunbattle in which pirates - but no crew members - were reportedly wounded.