16 March 2017

Somalia: Pirates Release Oil Tanker and Crew - Officials

Photo: Indian Navy
(file photo).

Pirates who seized a Comoros-flagged oil tanker have released the ship without conditions, an official says. Security official Ahmed Mohamed said the pirates have left the ship, which is now heading to Bossaso port, the region's commercial hub.

He says the release occurred after negotiations by local elders and local officials with the pirates, who seized the tanker on Monday.

Naval forces and the pirates clashed earlier Thursday.

The hijacking of the Comoros-flagged tanker Aris 13 was the first such seizure of a large commercial vessel off Somalia since 2012.

The Aris 13 on Monday reported being approached by two skiffs, John Steed with the organization Oceans Beyond Piracy said.

The ship had been carrying fuel from Djibouti to Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, he said. Eight Sri Lankan crew members were reported aboard.

An official in the semi-autonomous state of Puntland said more than 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 authorized to speak to the press. The ship was anchored 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 said by phone. An official based in the Middle East with knowledge of the incident said that no ransom demand had been made.

'The vessel's captain reported to the company they were approached by two skiffs and that one of them they could see armed personnel on board,' the official said. 'The ship changed course quite soon after that report and is now anchored.'

The official spoke on condition of anonymity as no one was authorized to speak publicly about the incident. It was not immediately clear who owned the ship or where it was flagged. Steed said it was United Arab Emirates-owned and Sri Lankan-flagged, but the Middle East-based official said it was Greek-owned and Comoros-flagged with plans to re-flag it to Sri Lanka. Such ships often are reflagged and sold many times.

A Britain-based spokeswoman for the European Union Naval Force operation off Somalia, Flt Lt Louise Tagg, confirmed that an incident involving an oil tanker had occurred and an investigation was underway.

The US Navy's 5th Fleet, which is based in Bahrain and oversees anti-piracy efforts in the region, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This would be the first commercial pirate attack off Somalia since 2012, Steed said. Piracy off Somalia's coast was once a serious threat to the global shipping industry.

It has lessened in recent years after an international effort to patrol near the country, whose weak central government has been trying to assert itself after a quarter-century of conflict.

But frustrations have been rising among local fishermen, including former pirates, at what they say are foreign fishermen illegally fishing in local waters. Nur, the local elder, said that young fishermen including former pirates have hijacked the ship.

'They have been sailing through the ocean in search for a foreign ship to hijack since yesterday morning and found this ship and boarded it,' he said. 'Foreign fishermen destroyed their livelihoods and deprived them of proper fishing.'

Somali pirates usually hijack ships and crew for ransom. They don't normally kill hostages unless they come under attack, including during rescue attempts.

A United Nations report seen by the AP in November said Somali pirates retain the capacity and intent to resume the attacks and lately have shifted to targeting smaller foreign fishing boats.

Australian government records from 2014 show the ship in Monday's incident was owned by Flair Shipping Trading FZE in the United Arab Emirates and linked to UAE-based ship management firm Aurora Ship Management FZE. It was flying under the flag of Liberia at the time. It was not immediately clear if the companies were still linked to the ship.

Argyrios Karagiannis, the managing director of Flair Shipping, declined to comment. Calls and emails to Aurora went unanswered.

Concerns about piracy off Africa's coast have largely shifted to the Gulf of Guinea. Attacks by Somali pirates raged from 2005. At the peak of the piracy epidemic in January 2011, 736 hostages and 32 boats were held.

Though anti-piracy measures ended attacks on commercial vessels, fishing boats continued to face assaults.

More on This

Puntland Forces Attack Pirates Hijacked Fuel Tanker

Maritime police in Somalia's semi-autonomous region of Puntland said on Thursday they would attack hijackers holding an… Read more »

Copyright © 2017 Shabelle Media Network. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.

AllAfrica publishes around 900 reports a day from more than 140 news organizations and over 500 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.