Somali pirates have hijacked seven Indian cargo vessels with at least 97 sailors off the coast of Somalia, news reports said Wednesday, DPA reported.
India's Directorate General of Shipping headquartered in Mumbai said seven vessels were hijacked over the past few days, but the exact dates were not yet confirmed, the English-language Hindustan Times reported.
The vessels were bound for the United Arab Emirates via Somalia when they were captured and all the sailors were from the western Indian state of Gujarat.
New Delhi has banned the movement of its vessels between Salalah in Oman and Male in the Maldives, which is on pirate-infested sea route, to prevent further hijackings, the report said.
"We had to take this decision in view of the continuing threat of hijacking," K Mohandas, shipping secretary, was quoted as saying by the daily.
Ashok Bhanushali of the Gujarat-based Cargo Vessels Association confirmed to the IANS news agency the hijackings off the Gulf of Aden and Somalia region, but said a total of 140 sailors were abducted. No ransom demand had been made yet.
Ahmed Haji Hasan, the owner of one vessel, told IANS that the hijackings occurred on Sunday.
"They have kept the vessels in mid-sea near a port in Somalia," he said, adding that the crew members were not allowed to communicate with the owners.
A delegation of vessel owners was on its way to Somalia, whose pirates are known to take huge ransoms for the vessels and captured sailors, the report said.
The number of attacks by pirates in the Gulf of Aden and further out in the Indian Ocean in 2009 was almost double the 2008 figure, according to the International Maritime Bureau.