Oil tanker hijacked off Somali coast

Posted at 1:51 PM, Mar 14, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-14 13:52:16-04

An oil tanker has been hijacked off the coast of Somalia, raising fears Somali pirates could be back in action after almost five years.

The Aris 13, a Comoros-flagged oil tanker belonging to a Greek company, disappeared off the coast of the east African nation Monday according to a spokesman for the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), based in Dubai.

The UKMTO spokesman confirmed to CNN that the ship’s last known position was off the coast of Somalia near a town called Alula (Caluula).

“The vessel has been hijacked,” he said. “It has been taken against its will to another location,” he said.

But he said it was too early to say that the ship had been taken by pirates, and that there had so far been no request for a ransom.

Warship on the way

A warship has been sent to the Somali coast by the 31-nation Combined Maritime Forces’ anti-piracy team.

The Aris 13 is used to refuel ships in port. It was traveling from Djibouti, Somalia’s northern neighbor, to the Somali capital Mogadishu when it was hijacked.

Sri Lanka’s Director General of Merchant Shipping Ajith Seneviratne said the vessel was registered in Colombo until January 21 2016, before it switched to the East African island nation of the Comoros.

At the time of registration, Seneviratne said eight crew members from Sri Lanka were listed as crew members. It is not known if there were further crew members from other nations on board the tanker at the time it disappeared.

Piracy off Somalia’s coast used to cost the world’s shipping industry billions of dollars and was seen as a major threat. But international efforts over the past few years to patrol near the country seemed to have paid off.

The last major attack on a commercial ship by Somali pirates was in 2012 when the MV Smyrni, with a crew of 26 and carrying 135,000 tonnes of crude oil, was held in a pirate anchorage off the Somali coast for 10 months before being released after an undisclosed ransom was paid.

Somalia, which has suffered from 25 years of conflict, is currently threatened by a famine caused by drought.

Renewed piracy in the shipping lanes would likely impact international efforts to bring food and other aid to the more than six million people the UN says are in need of assistance.