Armed men seized an oil tanker off the coast of Somalia’s northern coast, the EU’s anti-piracy mission NAVFOR said late Tuesday.
“Upon receipt of the mayday alert, an EU Naval Force maritime patrol aircraft was launched from its base in Djibouti to overfly the tanker and make radio contact with the ship’s master,” NAVFOR said in a statement.
“Despite hailing the ship several times, no contact was made and the situation on board remained unclear until late this afternoon,” it added. NAVFOR noted that the Somali pirates had demanded ransom, information which they provided to the ship’s owner.
Sri Lanka’s foreign ministry confirmed an eight-member Sri Lankan crew piloted the Comoros-flagged tanker Aris 13.
The hijacking marks the first of its kind in five years. At their peak in 2011, Somali pirates commandeered several hundred commercial ships costing the global economy an estimated $7 billion (€6.6-billion), of which 80% was borne by the shipping industry.
‘Never went away’
The series of hijackings prompted the UN, EU and NATO to intervene patrol maritime routes in and around the Gulf of Aden. However, NATO’s mission officially ended in December.
John Steed, director of Oceans Beyond Piracy NGO, said the latest act of piracy off the coast of Somalia showed that the authorities had let their guard down.
“The pirates never went away, they were just doing other forms of crime and if … ships take risks, the pirates are poised to exploit the weakness,” Steed told the Associated Press news agency.
The affected area is considered a strategic trade route that leads through the Suez Canal, linking oilfields of the Middle East with European ports. Modern piracy of the coast of Somalia dates back to 2005.