Image: German-owned cargo ship MV Victoria
-  /  AFP - Getty Images file
The German-owned cargo ship MV Victoria was an easy target for pirates because of its slow speed and low railing, a German official says.
updated 5/7/2009 11:23:29 AM ET 2009-05-07T15:23:29

Romanian Hartin Sarchizian and his only child, Ruxandra, had not seen each other in two years — but their joy at being reunited on a ship where they both were working was short-lived.

Just one month after their reunion, Sarchizian and his 31-year-old daughter were among those taken hostage Tuesday by Somali pirates.

The U.S. Navy says the MV Victoria, a German cargo ship with 11 Romanian crew, was captured in the Gulf of Aden. The Kru Martime recruiting company has identified the 11 sailors. Eight are from the Black Sea port of Constanta, including the Sarchizians.

At home in Constanta, Elena Sarchizian is anguished by the plight of her husband and daughter, thousands of miles from home.

"They called me from the shipping company ... and told me to sit down. I knew it was bad news," the 56-year-old told the Associated Press on Thursday.

"I have high blood pressure and have been on tablets ever since," she added. "All I want is some news. This stress is eating me up. It's very black."

In his 30 years at sea, the worst ordeal her husband, the ship's chief mechanic, had faced previously was a bad storm. The couple's only child followed in her father's footsteps, graduating from the Maritime University in Constanta six years ago.

Due to different sea voyages, the father and daughter, now a naval officer, had not seen each other for two years.

High-sea bandits
The MV Victoria was the latest ship to be seized by high-seas bandits

On Wednesday, German Defense Ministry spokesman Thomas Raabe said the Victoria had been sailing in an unaccompanied convoy, but was a relatively easy target because of its slow speed and low railing. A Turkish frigate responded to a call for help by sending a helicopter, but the ship already was in the pirates' hands by the time it arrived, he told reporters in Berlin. The frigate was between 80 and 100 nautical miles from the ship at the time, Raabe said.

The Gulf of Aden is one of the world's most important shipping lanes, connecting Europe and Asia via the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. It is used by 20,000 ships a year and has become the world's hot spot for pirate attacks.

At least 19 ships are now being held by Somali pirates, and about 250 sailors from countries around the world being held hostage in the Gulf of Aden and directly off Somalia's eastern coast.

Handsome ransoms
The pirates' wealth is all the more shocking considering Somalia's poverty. There has been no effective central government in nearly 20 years, plunging the arid country into chaos. Nearly every public institution has crumbled.

Last year, dozens of ships were seized and an estimated $1 million per boat was paid in ransom for their release, according to analysts. Each pirate is believed to get on average $10,000 for a successful hijacking.

Ship owners typically airdrop the plastic-wrapped cash into the sea.

An international flotilla of warships has been patrolling the Gulf of Aden and nearby waters, and has halted many attacks, but experts say the area is simply too vast to stop all pirate attacks.

Antigua and Barbuda's government said the vessel is registered with the European Union anti-piracy flotilla operating in the region and was in the recommended East-West corridor of the Gulf at the time of the hijacking.

The government statement said eight pirates hijacked the ship, and they were believed to be steering it toward the Somali coast town of Eyl — a known hotbed of piracy. The statement said the ship has a crew of 10, and the discrepancy could not immediately be explained.

The Romanian representative of the International Transporters' Federation, Adrian Mihalcioiu, said the incident happened in the strip secured by vessels operating under a NATO mandate. He said the ship was laden with rice and was traveling between India and Saudi Arabia.

'Bright and energetic girl'
In Romania, Sarchizian said he had spoken to her 63-year-old husband and her daughter last on April 30 when they were sailing from India. They were supposed to speak again when the ship docked in Saudi Arabia, but they never made it there.

Armenian priest Sorin Mandalian, who also spoke to Ruxandra on April 30, called her a "bright and energetic girl." The Armenian community, to which the Sarchizians belong, is praying for their safe return.

Sarchizian appealed to the pirates.

"Please don't harm them. They didn't go to sea just to have something to do," she said. "They went to make a living, to earn money. I just want them home."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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