London/Nairobi: Suspected Somali pirates have seized a cargo ship off the coast of Oman, a spokesperson for NATO said - in an incident which appears to mark a significant expansion in the area where Somali pirates operate.
A spokesperson for NATO's command in Northwood, Britain, said the MV Charelle, owned by a German shipping firm, was taken on Friday by eight pirates.
The ship was flying under an Antigua and Barbuda flag.
It was believed to be on a course for Somalia under pirate control, the spokesperson said.
"I can confirm a ship, the MV Charelle, has been hijacked Friday afternoon inside Oman's territorial waters," said Commander Chris Davies, the bloc's maritime spokesman.
"This is the first noted case of armed robbery in Oman's territorial waters, outside the normal area where the pirates are operating. It's quite unusual," he said. "The ship is now heading ... towards Somalia."
There was no information on the ship's cargo or the nationality of its crew.
If the attack was carried out by Somali pirates, it will mark the furthest the criminal gangs have ventured from the Somali coast.
The pirates have been slowly expanding their reach, using larger motherships to launch small attack vessels, as they avoid patrols by international warships in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean off Somalia.
Pirate gangs, who can earn millions of dollars in ransom for each captured ship, are holding over a dozen ships and more than 200 crew members.
Somalia has been without a stable government since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and the lawlessness has helped breed piracy.