Nairobi (AFP) – Suspected pirates boarded a Sri Lankan-flagged tanker and forced its crew to change course towards the northeastern Somali coast, an expert on piracy in Somalia said Tuesday.
If the hijackers’ identity is confirmed, the attack would be the first by Somali pirates on a commercial ship since 2012.
“What we know for sure is that a small tanker has been attacked and has diverted course,” said John Steed, a former British army officer who heads the Horn of Africa section of the Oceans Beyond Piracy NGO.
“Whether this is a pirate attack needs to be confirmed. For example, we do not know what the demands of those men are. But this looks pretty much like the old piracy attack scenario,” he added.
With eight crew members on board, the Aris 13 is run by an Emirati company and flies the Sri Lankan flag.
It was carrying fuel from Djibouti to Mogadishu.
Its crew sent a distress signal on Monday afternoon, Steed said.
“Yesterday (Monday) afternoon, the ship reported that it was followed by two skiffs. After that, it went silent and the owner of the ship was not able to get into contact,” he explained.
A search for the ship was under way off the Somali coast on Tuesday.
The Aris 13 was forced to dock near the town of Alula, in northeastern Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Puntland.
“There has not been an attack of a commercial ship by Somali pirates since 2012,” Steed said.
Attacks by Somali pirates raged from 2005. At the peak of the piracy epidemic in January 2011, 736 hostages and 32 boats were held.
Though anti-piracy measures ended attacks on commercial vessels, fishing boats continued to face assaults.