Pirates hijack small tanker off Somalia

Somali pirates suspected of first ship hijacking since 2012

It came as a surprise to the global shipping industry as worldwide patrols had suppressed pirate hijackings for several years.

In October, the United Nations warned that the situation remained fragile, and Somali pirates still "possess the intent and capability to resume attacks".

Pirates do not normally kill hostages unless they come under attack.

An EU NAVFOR photo showing the Aris 13 being held at anchor off the northern coast of Puntland, Somalia, March 14, 2017.

The tanker sent a distress signal on Monday evening, reporting that it was being approached by high speed boats.

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

There are thought to be eight people on board the Sri Lankan boat, alongside 12,000 tonnes of cargo.

The armed men were demanding a ransom for the ship's release and were holding the crew captive, the European Union anti-piracy operation off Somalia said late Tuesday after making contact with the ship's master.

"In case this is true", he said, "we will probably be asking for a heavy-handed interference from USA forces for their release". It said it is seeking to help ensure the crew's "safety and welfare". After the vessel was hijacked, the pirates turned off the AIS and altered course for the Somali port town of Alula.

"The pirates never went away, they were just doing other forms of crime".

The merchant ship was intercepted while en route to Mogadishu, the Somali capital, from Djibouti, and was diverted toward Alula, a port in the semiautonomous Puntland region in northeastern Somalia, Ali Shire Mohamud Osman, the district commissioner in Alula, said in a telephone interview.

Piracy off Somalia's coast was once a serious threat to the global shipping industry. "Fish is one answer", he said, referring to the drought that Somalia recently declared a national disaster.

"Merchant shipping should continue to take protective measures against possible piracy attacks in the Gulf of Aden and the western Indian Ocean through diligent application of IMO guidance and Best Management Practices".

Salad Nur, an elder from Putland, Somalia, told the Associated Press that local fishermen and former pirates were behind the hijack. They take boatloads of people to Yemen and return with weapons, he said.

Worryingly, the factors that drove many Somali coastal fishermen to become pirates almost a decade ago are still there. Phil Dierking adapted it for VOA Learning English. It left the country's coast line vulnerable and became a hot spot for illegal fishing and the dumping of toxic waste, the report says.

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