Striking into the heavily patrolled Gulf of Aden, Somali pirates seized a British-flagged chemical tanker, the first merchant vessel to be hijacked there in nearly six months, officials said Tuesday.
A Panamanian-flagged cargo ship also was seized Monday off the southern coast of Somalia.
The double hijacking shows that piracy remains a problem a year after an international naval armada began deploying off Somalia to protect shipping. Monday's attacks occurred more than 1,000 miles apart, indicating the wide range of territory prowled by pirates and underscoring the difficulty of policing such a large area.
Cmdr. John Harbour, spokesman for the European Union's anti-piracy force, said the seizures were probably only a coincidence and not coordinated because several pirate bands operate in the region.
EU officials believe that about 1,000 Somalis are involved in the piracy trade.
Somali pirates have hijacked more than 80 ships in the past two years. Many of the hijackings earned the pirates multimillion-dollar ransoms.
A top official from Somalia's U.N.-backed government urged the international community to pursue pirates in their havens on land.
"We have reiterated so many times that pursuing pirates on land is crucial to any military response," Somali Information Minister Dahir Gelle said.
The U.K.-flagged tanker St. James Park, with 26 crew members, was the first merchant vessel to have been hijacked in the Gulf of Aden in nearly six months, said Noel Choong of the International Maritime Bureau in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. A fishing boat was taken in the gulf earlier this month.
The St. James Park had set sail from Tarragona, Spain, and was headed for Tha Phut, Thailand, Harbour said.
Three hours after the St. James Park was hijacked, a Panamanian-flagged carrier with 19 crew members was seized by pirates off the southern coast of Somalia.
Greece's Merchant Marine Ministry said the Navios Apollon was carrying fertilizer from the U.S. to India.
Also on Monday, pirates released the Singapore-flagged container ship Kota Wajar, which was hijacked in mid-October with a crew of 21.