Somali pirates suspected of first ship hijacking since 2012

An oil tanker has been hijacked by suspected pirates off the coast of Somalia, reports say, the first such hijacking in the region in five years.

The ship sent a distress signal on Monday evening, saying it was being approached by high-speed boats.

The gunmen have told a local official they are fishermen whose equipment was destroyed by illegal fishing vessels.

Piracy was rampant off the Somali coast until increased patrols by European naval forces contained the problem.

The vessel was en route from Djibouti to the Somali capital, Mogadishu, and was then diverted towards the port of Alula in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

Its tracking system has reportedly been switched off.

The Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry has confirmed that eight of its nationals were on board.

Ali Shire Mohamud Osman, the district commissioner in the town of Alula, near where the ship has been taken, told the BBC he was trying to find out if the gunmen really were fishermen or were organised pirates.

“The men who are holding it claim that they are fishermen who suffered from the illegal fishing in the area. However, if we confirm that they are pirates, I will ask them to leave the area immediately. Otherwise, we will see how we can save the vessel,” he said.

The vessel was carrying oil and was owned by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), despite conflicting reports over the flag it was sailing under, he added.

 

BBC

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