Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Pirates hijack freighter off Somalia's coast, officials say

Published:Wednesday | March 15, 2017 | 3:00 AM

MOGADISHU (AP):

Pirates have hijacked an oil tanker off the coast of Somalia, local officials and an expert said Tuesday, the first such seizure of a large commercial vessel on the crucial global trade route since 2012.

The reported seizure Monday of the Aris 13 came as a surprise to the global shipping industry as patrols by the navies of NATO countries, as well as China, India and Iran, had suppressed Somali pirate hijackings for several years.

However, the United Nations warned in October that the situation was fragile and that Somali pirates "possess the intent and capability to resume attacks."

One expert said some in the region had let down their guard as the situation calmed.

The Aris 13, manned by eight Sri Lankan sailors, was carrying fuel from Djibouti to Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, when it was approached by men in two skiffs, said John Steed, the director of Oceans Beyond Piracy.

An official in the semiautonomous state of Puntland said over two dozen men boarded the ship off Somalia's northern coast, an area known to be used by weapons smugglers and members of the al-Qaida-linked extremist group al-Shabab. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to journalists.

The ship was anchored yesterday off the town of Alula, said Salad Nur, a local elder. "The ship is on the coast now and more armed men boarded the ship," he told The Associated Press by phone.

An official based in the Middle East with knowledge of the incident told the AP that no ransom demand had been made.