Somali pirates have seized a Japanese-owned cargo ship with 20 Filipino crew members onboard, the European Union Naval Force said Monday.
The owners of the Panama-flagged Izumi received an automatically released distress signal Sunday afternoon, indicating that the vessel was likely under attack by pirates, said E.U. Naval Force spokesman Lt. Col. Per Klingvall.
A Danish warship was sent to investigate and made contact with the Izumi's captain early Monday. He reported that the ship was under pirate control. It is now traveling to Somalia and is around 170 miles (274 kilometers) south of the Somali capital of Mogadishu.
A French warship is monitoring the situation as the Izumi heads toward Somalia, said Klingvall.
The Izumi is operated by NYK-Hinode Line, Ltd and was traveling between Singapore and Mombasa, said Yuki Shimoda, an official at Japan's Transport Ministry. It was not immediately known what cargo the 14,152-ton Izumi was carrying.
Somali pirates now hold 18 ships and 389 crew. The sailors are not usually hurt or killed but can be held for months while their captors negotiate a multimillion-dollar ransom.
Somalia has been a failed state for nearly 20 years and the cash from piracy is one of the few ways its inhabitants can make money. The lion's share of the loot is usually split between financiers, negotiators, and local militias. The gunmen who go out to sea in tiny skiffs and guard the captive ships also get a cut, usually between $10,000 and $15,000 each.