Three Somali police speedboats and a U.S. military vessel were headed Monday toward a U.N.-chartered cargo ship hijacked by pirates, a senior police official said. Piracy has been rampant off the Somali coast.
Somali pirates boarded the MV Rozen - which had just delivered a total of 1,884 tons of food aid in northern Somalia - on Sunday, taking the crew hostage, officials said. It is the third U.N.-chartered ship to be hijacked in Somali waters since 2005.
Police boats were within sight of the ship "but we asked them to stop going further because our biggest concern is the safety of the crew of 12 on board," said Col. Abdi Ali Hagaafe, police chief of the Bari region.
"We have asked the U.S. navy in the Red Sea ... to help us in the operation, and they told us they have started to move towards the ship," he said.
The ship is not in international waters, but "U.S./Coalition forces are in the area and are monitoring the situation," said Lt. Denise Garcia of the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command based in Bahrain.
Somali pirates are trained fighters, often dressed in military fatigues, using speedboats equipped with satellite phones and Global Positioning System equipment. They typically are armed with automatic weapons, anti-tank rocket launchers and various types of grenades, according to the U.N. Monitoring Group on Somalia.
The militiamen target passenger, cargo and fishing vessels for ransom or loot, using the money to buy weapons. Somalia's 1,860-mile coastline is Africa's longest.
Somalia has not had an effective national government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on one another, throwing the country into anarchy. The transitional government was formed in 2004 with U.N. help.
Associated Press writer Jim Calderwood in Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed to this report.