DUBAI (Reuters) - An Iranian bulk carrier of Brazilian sugar was hijacked in the eastern Indian Ocean early on Monday with 23 crew on board, international shipping monitors said.
The Eglantine, which according to Reuters shipping data loaded in Rio de Janeiro in late February, was hijacked off India’s southwest coast by suspected Somali pirates, NATO’s counter-piracy mission said.
Armed pirate gangs are making millions of dollars in ransoms and are able to stay out at sea for long periods using captured merchant vessels as mother ships. The shipping security crisis costs world trade billions of dollars each year.
Attacks as far away from Somalia as Monday’s hijacking are rare. Although NATO, EU and Iranian naval forces are trying to protect merchant shipping, the Indian Ocean is too big for them to effectively patrol all of it.
“It is very far east from Somalia,” a spokeswoman for the NATO Shipping Centre said.
The U.S. has identified the vessel as being operated by Iranian government shipping companies blacklisted by Washington.
Iran is expected to import 1.6 million tonnes of sugar in 2011-12, according to the International Sugar Organization.
However, Western sanctions have made it difficult for Iran to pay for basic foods through the global banking system, even though foodstuffs are not targeted by the sanctions.
The vessel was carrying over 63,000 tonnes of cargo when it left Brazil, the world’s biggest sugar exporter, according to shipping data.
Additional reporting by Jonathan Saul in London; Editing by Karolina Tagaris