By Abdiqani Hassan
BOSASSO, Somalia, Apr 3 : Pirates have hijacked an Indian commercial ship off the coast of Somalia, the second attack in weeks after years of inactivity, industry and security sources said today.
United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), which coordinates the management of merchant ships and yachts in the Gulf of Aden area, said it had received information that a dhow en route to Bosasso from Dubai had been hijacked “in the vicinity of Socotra (Island)”.
A spokesman said UKMTO could not confirm the location of the vessel, which he identified as Al Kausar, or what exactly had taken place, and that investigations were continuing.
“We understand Somali pirates hijacked a commercial Indian ship (and it is heading) towards Somalia shores,” Abdirizak Mohamed Dirir, a former director of the anti-piracy agency in Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region, told Reuters.
Somali pirates hijacked an oil tanker last month, the first commandeering of a vessel since 2012, but released it after a clash with the Puntland marine force.
Somalis have been angered recently by foreign fishermen flooding into their waters, some of whom have been given licences to operate there by the Somali government.
Graeme Gibbon-Brooks of UK-based Dryad Maritime Security said industry sources had told him the Indian vessel was en route to Bosasso from Dubai when it was hijacked on Saturday.
The pirates were on board and were taking the ship and its 11 crew members to Eyl in Puntland, he said.
An Indian government official briefed on the incident confirmed the crew’s number, said they were all Indian, that the vessel was an unmechanised dhow, and that officials were in touch with the Somali government.
India’s ministry of external affairs told Reuters it could not confirm the hijack but some Indian media reported that the vessel was called Al Kaushar.
“This confirms that the pirates still have the ability to go to sea and take vessels, and the international shipping industry need to take additional precautions,” John Steed of the aid group Oceans Beyond Piracy, told Reuters.
In 2011, Somali pirates launched 237 attacks off the coast of Somalia, data from the International Maritime Bureau showed, and took hundreds of hostages.
However attacks reduced as shipping companies tightened security measures, such as posting lookouts, blocking easy entry points to ships with barbed wire and installing secure panic rooms with communications equipment.
In a separate incident that highlights increased pirate activity, UKMTO said on its website that early today, six skiffs had approached a vessel it did not identify and that ladders and hooks were sighted.
The vessel raised the alarm, prompting armed guards to take up positions and the skiffs departed, leaving the vessel unharmed, UKTMO said.