White House press secretary Dana Perino said Wednesday that President George W. Bush has been briefed on the issue of piracy and that the United States was working with other members of the U.N. Security Council to see if there are actions that can be taken to fight and prevent piracy more effectively.
"The safety and well-being of the crew is of paramount importance in preventing or dealing with issues of piracy," Perino said. "One of the things that's clear is that piracy is something that is affecting ... many more waters than any of us would have known about."
The Gulf of Aden connects to the Red Sea, which in turn is linked to the Mediterranean by the Suez Canal. The route is thousands of miles and many days shorter than going around the Cape of Good Hope off the southern tip of Africa.
The Thai boat, which was flying a flag from the tiny Pacific nation of Kiribati but operated out of Thailand, made a distress call as it was being chased by pirates in two speedboats but the phone connection was cut.
Wicharn Sirichaiekawat, manager of Sirichai Fisheries Co. Ltd. told The Associated Press the ship, the Ekawat Nava 5, was headed from Oman to Yemen to deliver fishing equipment.
"We have not heard from them since, so we don't know what the demands are," Wicharn said. "We have informed the families of the crew but right now, we don't have much more information to give them either."
Of the 16 crew members, Wicharn said 15 are Thai and one is Cambodian.
Later in the day, Thai Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Voradet Veeravekin said Thai officials in Kenya were trying to make contact with the vessel.
"Based on previous cases, we believe they were held for ransom. We are optimistic that we will be able to negotiate for their release once we can contact the ship," he told the AP.
The Iranian carrier, the Delight, was flying a Hong Kong flag but was operated by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines.
On Tuesday, a major Norwegian shipping group, Odfjell SE, ordered its more than 90 tankers to sail around Africa rather than use the Suez Canal after the seizure of the Saudi tanker.
"We will no longer expose our crew to the risk of being hijacked and held for ransom by pirates in the Gulf of Aden," said Terje Storeng, Odfjell's president and chief executive.
Barbara Surk in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Vijay Joshi in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Ambika Ahuja in Bangkok, Thailand, and Mohamed Sheikh Nor and Mohamed Olad Hassan in Mogadishu, Somalia, contributed to this report.