Pirates abduct 17 Indian sailors in Indian Ocean

Mumbai, Feb 8 (PTI) Using rocket launchers andsubmachine guns, suspected Somali pirates today abducted 17Indian and five Italian sailors after hijacking a largeItalian-flagged oil tanker in the Indian Ocean.

The 266-metre long and 46-metre wide ''Savina Caylyn''with 22 crew members on board was attacked by the pirates andtaken over at 0520 hours IST, a senior official at theDirectorate General of Shipping told PTI.

Initial reports said no one was hurt in the attack byfive pirates who were armed with rocket-propelled-grenades(RPG) and rifles. Submachine guns were also used while seizingthe vessel, the reports said.

The pirates were in a single skiff (small boat), theshipping official said.

The attack took place some 800 kms off the west coastof India and some 1,300 kms off Somalia coast.

The 17 Indian and five Italian nationals were part ofthe crew, the official said.

According to reports, the vessel is currently sailingwest towards the Somali coast. It is believed to be rare forSomali pirates to operate so far from the Somali coast.

The attack came within days of Indian authoritiesarresting 39 alleged pirates off the coast of Lakshadweep inthe Arabian Sea in two separate operations.

The vessel was on its way to Pasir Gudang in Malaysiafrom Marsa Bashayer in Sudan when it was attacked.

Communication with the ill-fated vessel is also reported tohave snapped.

Further details like the names of those taken hostage,and their addresses in India were not immediately known.

When contacted, a Defence Ministry spokesperson inMumbai said though India has a warship permanently stationedin the Gulf of Aden, it is not in a position to reach SavinaCaylyn.

"The place of incident is 400 nautical miles away fromthe location of our ship," he said.

Defence Minister A K Antony voiced concern over recentincidents of piracy involving Somali pirates near Indianwaters and said some other forces were helping them and thatthe country cannot be a mere spectator to it.

"Our waters are not safe like before. There are someother forces helping them (pirates). We cannot remain merespectators'', he said but added they (forces) were yet to beidentified," Antony said in Kochi.

According to Italian Coast Guard officials, there wasan exchange of fire between the pirates and crew before thesea brigands boarded the vessel.

The coast guard was alerted to the attack by asatellite alarm system all Italian ships have that registerswith the coast guard''s operations center in Rome.

An Italian Navy frigate was heading to the region.

The navy said since the attack took place so far fromland, the pirates are likely to have used a "mother-ship" basefrom which to launch the smaller skiff.

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