NAIROBI Pirates hijacked a Turkish ship in the Gulf of Aden on Wednesday in an unusual attack because of rough seas at this time of year, Kenyan and Turkish transportation officials said.
Andrew Mwangura, coordinator of the East African Seafarers' Assistance Programme, named the vessel as Horizon-1.
"It was taken in the Gulf of Aden this morning with 23 Turkish crew," he said. "In this season, it is hard to take ships because monsoon winds make the seas rough. No one expected attacks at this time."
Rough seas make it difficult for pirates to manoeuvre the small, open skiffs they generally use to come alongside merchant ships.
Mwangura said he believed the ship was carrying sulphate.
Turkey's Transportation Minister Binali Yildirim said two Turkish frigates were following the Horizon-1, which was en route from Jordan to Saudi Arabia when it was hijacked by Somali pirates, according to state run Anatolia news agency.
Yildirim said one of the frigates had gone to the scene of the attack but that it had not intervened to avoid putting the lives of the crew at risk.
Shipping information service Lloyd's List put the 1980-built Horizon-1's size at 34,173 deadweight tonnes.
Lloyd's List said at the onset of the attack, the ship's master radioed for urgent assistance and that a Turkish warship had been sent to the scene.
Poor weather has hampered pirate attacks of late giving the nearly 20,000 ships that pass through the Gulf of Aden each year some temporary reprieve.
Foreign navies have been deployed off Somalia since the turn of the year to try to prevent attacks but find themselves overstretched given the vast expanses of water involved.
A Danish newspaper reported that piracy at sea off the horn of Africa has caused a 10-fold increase in insurance premiums for shipping companies.
"There has been a big increase in premiums to go through the Gulf of Aden," Svein Ringbakken, insurance director at Den Norske Krigsforsikring for Skib, a Norwegian ship insurer, told the paper.
To keep clear of the Gulf of Aden, many shippers are choosing to avoid the Suez Canal and sail instead around Africa, adding 5,000 sea miles to the journey.
(Additional reporting by John Acher in Copenhagen and Ibon Villelabeitia in Ankara)