SEOUL - A SOUTH KOREAN fishing boat with 43 people on board has been seized by Somali pirates off the coast of Kenya, the foreign ministry said on Sunday.

The 241-ton crab fishing vessel, which was carrying two South Koreans, two Chinese and 39 Kenyans, was hijacked on October 9 near the Kenyan island of Lamu in the Indian Ocean, the ministry said in a statement.

'We are investigating the exact circumstances surrounding the incident by setting up an emergency team at our embassy in Kenya,' it said, without revealing whereabouts of the vessel and crew.

YTN news channel reported that the fishing boat and its crew had been taken to a pirate stronghold in northern Somalia, citing South Korean sources in Kenya. The latest hijacking came as South Korea increases efforts to counter piracy in international waters.

South Korea has an anti-piracy warship patrolling Somali waters because of a rise in hijackings near the Horn of Africa, a key route leading to the Suez Canal. In April, a South Korean oil tanker with 24 crew members was hijacked by pirates off the coast of Somalia and has been held since then.

The 300,000-ton ship, the Samho Dream, was on its way from Iraq to the US state of Louisiana with a crew of five South Koreans and 19 Filipinos. Somali pirates, targeting one of the world's busiest maritime trade routes, raked in an estimated US$60 million (S$77.7 million) in ransoms last year.

Pirates seize S.Korean boat