Pirates have seized a German-owned ship in the waters between Somalia and Yemen, a U.S. Navy spokesman said Saturday.
Pirates captured the Maltese-flagged MV Patriot early Saturday in the Gulf of Aden about 150 nautical miles southeast of the coastal Yemeni city of Muqalla, said U.S. Navy 5th Fleet spokesman Lt. Nathan Christensen.
An official from the German Foreign Ministry could not immediately confirm the ship's capture on Saturday.
Andrew Mwangura of the Mombasa, Kenya-based East African Seafarers' Assistance Program, a group that monitors pirate activity off the African coast, said the ship has 17 crew members but could not name their nationalities. He said the large cargo vessel is designed to carry grain, but said he did not know what cargo it contained when it was captured.
According to the company's Web site, the Patriot is part of the fleet of Hamburg-based Johann M.K. Blumenthal, one of Germany's oldest shipping companies. A man who answered the phone at the company's switchboard declined to give his name or details of the situation, saying: "For the time being, we will not give further information to the press."
Many of the ships crossing the Gulf of Aden, one of the world's most busy shipping lanes, are carrying food to eastern African nations, as was the case for the MV Maersk Alabama, a U.S.-flagged vessel that was hijacked by pirates earlier this month, leading to a five-day standoff with the U.S. Navy.
Also in the Gulf of Aden on Saturday, naval vessels from the U.S., Germany and China came to the aid of a Philippine chemical tanker stranded without fuel in waters near Somalia days after it was freed by pirates.
Maria Elena Bautista, administrator of the Maritime Industry Authority, said a U.S. Navy ship provided five days worth of diesel fuel for the MT Stolt Strength, which was drifting some 60 miles east of the Somali coast. The pirates seized the ship in November as it sailed through the Gulf of Aden with a cargo of phosphoric acid.
Pirates have attacked more than 100 ships off the Somali coast over the last year, reaping an estimated $1 million in ransom for each successful hijacking, according to analysts and country experts.
Somalia, which was plunged into anarchy in 1991 after its dictator was overthrown, has become the pirates' de facto base, a war-wracked country with an economy in tatters where pirates are often viewed as heroes, using ransom money to build lavish villas for their families.