Using rocket launchers and submachine guns, suspected Somali pirates abducted 17 Indian and five Italian sailors after hijacking a large Italian-flagged oil tanker in the Indian Ocean.
The 266-metre long and 46-metre wide 'Savina Caylyn' with 22 crew members on board was attacked by the pirates and taken over at 0520 hours IST, a senior official at the Directorate General of Shipping told PTI.
Initial reports said no one was hurt in the attack by five pirates who were armed with rocket-propelled-grenades and rifles. Submachine guns were also used while seizing the vessel, the reports said.
The pirates were in a single skiff (small boat), the shipping official said.
The attack took place some 800 kms off the west coast of India and some 1,300 kms off Somalia coast. The 17 Indian and five Italian nationals were part of the crew, the official said.
According to reports, the vessel is currently sailing west towards the Somali coast. It is believed to be rare for Somali pirates to operate so far from the Somali coast. The attack came within days of Indian authorities arresting 39 alleged pirates off the coast of Lakshadweep in the Arabian Sea in two separate operations.
The vessel was on its way to Pasir Gudang in Malaysia from Marsa Bashayer in Sudan when it was attacked.
Communication with the ill-fated vessel is also reported to have snapped.
Further details like the names of those taken hostage, and their addresses in India were not immediately known. When contacted, a Defence Ministry spokesperson in Mumbai said though India has a warship permanently stationed in the Gulf of Aden, it is not in a position to reach Savina Caylyn.
"The place of incident is 400 nautical miles away from the location of our ship," he said.
Defence Minister A K Antony voiced concern over recent incidents of piracy involving Somali pirates near Indian waters and said some other forces were helping them and that the country cannot be a mere spectator to it.
"Our waters are not safe like before. There are some other forces helping them (pirates). We cannot remain mere spectators', he said but added they (forces) were yet to be identified," Antony said in Kochi.
According to Italian Coast Guard officials, there was an exchange of fire between the pirates and crew before the sea brigands boarded the vessel.
The coast guard was alerted to the attack by a satellite alarm system all Italian ships have that registers with the coast guard's operations center in Rome.
An Italian Navy frigate was heading to the region. The navy said since the attack took place so far from land, the pirates are likely to have used a "mother-ship" base from which to launch the smaller skiff.