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Pirates hijack oil tanker off Somali coast

MOGADISHU // Pirates have hijacked an oil tanker off the coast of Somalia, officials and a piracy expert said on Tuesday.

It is the first hijacking of a large commercial vessel there since 2012.

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

Mr Steed said eight crew members were aboard the ship, which had been carrying fuel from Djibouti to Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu.

An official in the semi-autonomous Somali state of Puntland said more than two dozen men boarded the ship off Somalia’s northern coast. Another official in Puntland said the ship was being moved towards the coast.

A spokeswoman for the European Union Naval Force operation off Somalia, Flt Lt Louise Tagg, confirmed that an incident involving an oil tanker had occurred off Somalia’s coast and an investigation was under way.

The ship was also being monitored by the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Organisation (UKMTO), which co-ordinates the management of all merchant ships and yachts around the Gulf of Aden, said Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau’s piracy reporting centre in Kuala Lumpur.

The UKMTO in Dubai said it had no further information “at the moment”.

It was not immediately clear who owned the ship or where it was flagged. Mr Steed said it was UAE-owned and Sri Lankan-flagged. According to the Equasis shipping data website, managed by the French transport ministry, it listed the Aris as owned by Panama company Armi Shipping and managed by Aurora Ship Management in the UAE. Marine traffic lists the Aris as a Comoros-flagged ship.

Australian government records from 2014 show the ship in Monday’s incident was owned by Flair Shipping Trading FZE in the UAE and linked to Emirates-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.

Salad Nur, an elder in Alula, a coastal town in Puntland, said that young fishermen including former pirates 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.”

At their peak five years ago, Somali pirates terrorised sailors crossing the Gulf of Aden. They launched 237 attacks off the coast of Somalia in 2011, the International Maritime Bureau says, and held hundreds of hostages.

But attacks fell sharply after ship owners tightened security and avoided the Somali coast.

Interventions by regional naval forces that flooded into the area helped disrupt several hijack bids and secure the strategic trade route that leads through the Suez Canal and links the Middle East with European ports.

* Associated Press and Reuters

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