Three children are among seven Danes who have been kidnapped by pirates in the Indian Ocean, Danish officials said Monday.
The youths, ages 12 to 16, were taken captive along with their parents and two other adults on board a sailing vessel that put out a distress call Thursday, the Danish Foreign Ministry said. Media reports said the ship was on its way to Somalia, but the purpose of the voyage was unclear.
It's believed to be the first time that children have been victims in the spate of hostage-taking bedeviling the waters off eastern Africa. Lene Espersen, Denmark's foreign minister, said officials were in close contact with the victims' families.
"It is almost unbearable to think that there are children involved," she said in a statement Monday.
Espersen said the Danish government would not say much about the situation, for fear that media attention could make things worse. Just two days before the Danish boat issued its distress signal, four Americans aboard another hijacked ship were shot and killed by their Somali captors.
Pirates have become a major scourge in recent years on the high seas of the Indian Ocean and around the Gulf of Aden. Although international naval forces have stepped up patrols, the area is too vast to be made completely safe.
The pirates have mostly hijacked cargo ships and their crew, but amateur sailors on smaller vessels have also been taken.
In November, a British couple seized from their yacht near the Seychelles were released after more than a year in captivity. The couple's family is widely believed to have paid a sizable ransom, but family members have declined to confirm whether money changed hands.
The four Americans slain last week, including a couple from Marina del Rey, were hijacked on their yacht while on an around-the-world trip. U.S. military commandos stormed the boat to try to rescue them but said they found the four had already been shot to death.
Danish officials did not reveal whether the captors of the seven Danes had made any demands.
The European Union Naval Force said Monday that the cargo ship Dover had fallen prey to pirates in the northern Arabian Sea. The Greek-owned vessel, on its way to Yemen from Pakistan, has 23 crew members on board, most of them Filipinos. No contact had been established with the hijackers.
On Friday, the Panamanian-flagged Izumi was released by pirates, along with its 20-member Philippine crew, the EU Naval Force said. The condition of the ship and those aboard was not immediately known.