Somali pirates are suspected to have hijacked a Sri Lankan-flagged fuel freighter after the ship sent a distress call, turned off its tracking system and altered course for the Somali coast, a piracy expert told Reuters on Tuesday.
If confirmed, Monday’s incident would be the first hijack of a commercial ship by Somali pirates since 2012.
The Dubai-owned Aris 13 is believed to be carrying eight crew, said John Steed of the aid group Oceans Beyond Piracy. Steed, a former British colonel, has worked on piracy for nearly a decade and is in close contact with naval forces tracking the ship.
“The ship reported it was being followed by two skiffs yesterday afternoon. Then it disappeared,” he said.
Aircraft from regional naval force EU Navfor were flying overhead to track the ship’s progress and try to determine what was happening, he said.
In their heyday 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 oilfields of the Middle East with European ports.
(Reporting by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)