A Comoros-flagged bunker tanker with eight crew members has been pirated off Somalia’s north coast, the EU Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) Operation Atalanta has confirmed.
The EU NAVFOR says it received positive confirmation from the master of the Aris 13 that his ship and crew are currently being held captive by a number of suspected armed pirates in an anchorage off the north coast of Puntland, close to Alula.
The attack came shortly after the master issued a mayday alert to say that two skiffs were closing in on his ship in the Gulf of Aden.
Upon receipt of the mayday alert, an EU NAVFOR maritime patrol aircraft was launched from its base in Djibouti to conduct a flyover of the tanker and make radio contact with the ship’s master.
Despite hailing the ship several times, no contact was initially made and the situation on board remained unclear. That is until late Tuesday afternoon when the EU NAVFOR operational headquarters in London was able to make telephone contact with the ship’s master.
The master confirmed that armed men were on board his ship and they were demanding a ransom for the ship’s release. The EU NAVFOR has now passed the information regarding the incident to the ship’s owners.
The EU NAVFOR said all available assets are continuing to monitor the situation.
The eight crew members onboard are reported to be Sri Lankan nationals.
According to EU NAVFOR data, prior to today’s hijacking no commercial vessels had been pirated in the Horn of Africa region since 2012.
The European Union Naval Force Operation ATALANTA was launched in December 2008 in response to the surge in Somali-based piracy and armed robbery at sea off the Horn of Africa and in the Western Indian Ocean. It’s primary mission is to protect World Food Programme vessels and international shipping from acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea.
While the number of piracy incidents has fallen to nearly zero in recent years, the threat of piracy in the region has persisted as many of the conditions that enabled piracy to flourish in the first place are still present. For this reason, the European Council last November extended Operation Atalanta’s counter-piracy mandate until December 31, 2018.