"The ministries of transport and foreign affairs are co-ordinating with the concerned parties to secure the release of the boat and its crew," he said.

The crew includes Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis and Tanzanians, the transport minister said.

Andrew Mwangura from the Kenyan branch of the Seafarer's Assistance Programme said pirates had taken control of the ship and were sailing it northwards.

Hefty ransoms

If the vessel has been seized, it would be the latest in a string of such incidents to take place in waters close to the Somali coast since April.

Last month, pirates took control of a French yacht and held hostage a 30-member crew for a week before a ransom of $2m was paid for their release.

Pirates also seized a Spanish trawler off Somalia and held 26 crew members for ransom. The crew were released nearly a week later.

The Spanish government has said it paid no ransom but the Kenya-based Seafarers' Assistance Programme said the ship was released after $1.2m was paid.

Last year more than 25 ships were captured by pirates in Somali coastal waters, despite the presence of US naval patrols.