NAIROBI (Reuters) - The crew of a foreign cargo ship seized by Somali pirates overpowered their hijackers on Tuesday and retook control of the latest vessel to run into trouble in some of the world’s most dangerous waters.
The East African Seafarers’ Assistance Programme said the North Korean ship had been hijacked late on Monday or early on Tuesday near the port of Mogadishu.
“I hear the crew on the ship overpowered the gunmen. The crew were 22 while the gunmen were eight,” Andrew Mwangura, head of the Kenya-based maritime organization, said.
A senior Somali police official said police boats had pursued the ship.
Mwangura identified the ship as North Korean, and said it was possibly involved in a business dispute. Another source said the ship was carrying sugar from Brazil.
News of the second hijack emerged as the U.S. Navy said coalition forces patrolling the Red Sea region had opened fire on pirates who seized a chemical tanker on Sunday, destroying speedboats they typically use in their raids.
On Sunday, pirates hijacked a Japanese-owned chemical tanker flying the Panamanian flag off Somalia with 23 people on board.
The U.S. Navy said on Tuesday coalition naval forces belonging to Combined Task Force 150 had pursued the pirates into Somali waters and opened fire, destroying speedboats the seized vessel had in tow that were used in the raid.
“CTF-150 responded to a distress call from the tanker Golden Nory, warning shots were fired and the skiffs in tow were engaged and sunk,” a spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet said by telephone from Bahrain.
There were no reports of any casualties. He said coalition forces had opened fire in the Gulf of Aden.
“The operation is ongoing (to recover the ship) and there are indications a number of pirates are still on board,” the spokesman said, adding that a number of battleships were in the area.
Mwangura said the Golden Nory was carrying the inflammable and toxic chemical, benzene, and was being held off the northern Somali province of Puntland.
The U.S. Navy said it was aware of reports of a second hijack in the region but could not confirm it.
Four other boats -- a Comoros-registered cargo ship, two Tanzanian fishing vessels, and a ship from Taiwan -- are also being held by armed groups.
Without central government since 1991, Somalia’s waters have become among the world’s most perilous despite calls for international action to patrol them.
Attackers often justify their actions as measures against illegal fishing and toxic dumping.
Mwangura said the recent upsurge in attacks off Somalia may be a “message of defiance” in response to threats by the U.N. Security Council and others to take action against piracy.
Additional reporting by Stefano Ambrogi in London