Somali pirates fire shots on maritime forces

Reuters quoted Director General of the Maritime Force in Puntland as saying that the hijacked vessel is docked in seas off Alula city of semi-autonomous region of Puntland. "They made (the pirates) an offer they couldn't refuse and the pirates have left", said John Steed, the former British army officer who has spent years negotiating the release of piracy hostages in Somalia.

Sri Lanka's Foreign Affairs Minister Mangala Samaraweera on Thursday said his officials were in conversation with Puntland authorities to ensure the crew's safety.

A Somali pirate who said he was in touch with the armed men, Bile Hussein, said the pirates moved the ship away from the coast after naval forces approached.

It remains early to comment on the situation and the captives of the ship, but pirates threatened that they will defend themselves from everyone who attempts to force them.

The oil tanker was seized on Monday while en route from Djibouti to the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

He said the Puntland naval forces were dispatched to the area not to free the ship by force but to cut off any supplies to the pirates.

"The ship reported it was being followed by two skiffs yesterday afternoon".

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. "They desperately need to show their grievances by seizing the boat", said Abdiwahab Ahmed, an elder in Alula.

This would be the first commercial pirate attack off Somalia since 2012, Steed said.

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

The 1,800 deadweight tonne tanker is owned by Armi Shipping, a company registered in Panama, and managed by Aurora Ship Management in the United Arab Emirates, according to the French transport ministry's Equasis shipping data website.

Some Somali fishermen turned to piracy after their livelihoods were destroyed by illegal fishing from foreign trawlers, which benefited from the lack of a functioning coastguard in the country following years of conflict.

However, some smaller fishing vessels have recently been seized in the area.

  • Aubrey Nash