March 14 (UPI) — Suspected pirates hijacked an oil tanker in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia on Tuesday, Somali officials said.
It was the first such hijacking in five years. European naval forces have reduced piracy in the region, in which faster-moving boats chase down large merchant ships and commandeer them for ransom.
The ship hijacked Monday is believed to be a merchant oil tanker sailing under the United Arab Emirates flag, traveling from Djibouti to the Somali capital of Mogadishu. At least eight suspected attackers diverted the vessel toward the semiautonomous Somali territory of Puntland, sources told the Voice of America. Other reports said the vessel was registered in Sri Lanka.
Whether those who boarded the ship are pirates is still being determined. The European Union Naval Force, organizer of anti-piracy operations in the area since 2008, said it could not confirm pirate involvement in the incident. Ali Shire Mohammad Osman, Somali district commissioner, told the BBC that “The men who are holding [the ship] claim that they are fishermen who suffered from the illegal fishing in the area.”
At the height of the hijacking crisis, in 2010 and 2011, dozens of ships were attacked each month off the Somali coast. The piracy had an economic impact of $7 billion, with more than 1,000 hostages taken, the Voice of America said.