MANILA, Philippines?A German tanker with 12 Filipinos among its crew was hijacked on Thursday off the Horn of Africa, raising the number of Filipinos in the hands of Somali pirates to 56, the Department of Foreign Affairs reported Friday.
DFA Spokesperson Bayani Mangibin, quoting a communiqué from the Philippine Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, said the Filipinos were among the 13-man crew of the MV Longchamp, which was loaded with liquefied petroleum gas.
Registered in the Bahamas, the MV Longchamp is managed by the German firm Bernhard Schulte Shipmanagement.
The firm said in a statement that seven pirates boarded the tanker early Thursday. No ransom demands have been made yet.
Reports said that the ship?s master had been briefly allowed to communicate with the firm and had said that the crew of 12 Filipinos and one Indonesian were safe even though gunshots were heard over the ship?s radio.
Lt. Nathan Christensen, a Bahrain-based spokesman for the US 5th Fleet, said the ship was seized off the southern coast of Yemen, about 95 kilometers from the town of al-Mukalla, the capital of the Hadramaut region.
Robin Phillips, deputy director of the Bahamas maritime authority in London, said the Longchamp had been traveling in a corridor secured by EU military forces when it sent a distress signal before dawn.
?Ships and helicopters were dispatched, but they arrived too late,? said Phillips, adding that gunshots could be heard over the radio. He said the ship later set a course for Somalia, to the south.
The MV Longchamp is the third ship hijacked this month in the Gulf of Aden, one of the world?s busiest shipping lanes. It is the first with a Filipino crew.
Last year, a total of 17 ships with 208 Filipino seafarers on board had been hijacked off the Horn of Africa.
Most of the ships were released after their owners were reported to have paid ransom to pirates. Still being held are the MT Stolt Strength (hijacked Nov. 11), Tianyu No. 8 (hijacked Nov. 14), MV Chemstar Venus (hijacked Nov. 16).
The Philippines supplies one-third of the world?s shipping manpower, with about 270,000 Filipino seamen employed by foreign maritime agencies.
Somalia, a nation of about 8 million people, has not had a functioning government since warlords overthrew a dictator in 1991 and then turned on each other.
Piracy has taken an increasing toll on international shipping in the key water link between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean.
Pirates made an estimated $30 million from hijacking ships for ransom last year, seizing more than 40 vessels off Somalia?s coastline.
Somali waters are now patrolled by more than a dozen warships from Britain, France, Germany, Iran and the United States. China and South Korea have also ordered warships sent to the region to protect their vessels and crews from pirates. Cynthia D. Balana and Inquirer wires