KABUL (Reuters) – A dozen heavily armed pirates have hijacked a UAE-registered oil tanker along with 19 Filipino crew members off the coast of Somalia, an international piracy watchdog said.
“Twelve pirates armed with machine guns, AK47 rifles and sidearms boarded the tanker off Mogadishu during daylight,” Noel Choong, head of the Piracy Reporting Centre of the London-based International Maritime Bureau, told AFP.
Choong said the United Arab Emirates oil tanker had earlier discharged its cargo at Mogadishu port and was hit on March 29 after leaving port.
Maritime officials identified the ship as “Lin 1.”
Choong said the pirates are holding the ship off the coast of Somalia and are demanding “a huge sum of money” from the owners for its release.
The international coalition forces consisting of US, British and Dutch warships that are helping to police the area have been informed of the latest hijack, he said.
Choong said the pirates were holding the ship inside Somalia’s territorial waters and this could pose a problem should the foreign ships want to intervene.
Since March 15, 2005, pirates have hit 40 ships off Somalia but many more attacks have gone unreported, he said.
Choong urged ship captains to keep their vessels at least 200 kilometres (125 miles) away from Somalia’s coast to avoid pirate attacks.
“The pirates are armed and they will not hesitate to fire to stop ships,” he warned.
In a recent incident, pirates fired at a UN food aid ship in an attempt to hijack it. Pirates had hijacked an Indian ship, the Bhakti Saga, on February 26. Its 25-member crew was only freed on March 29.
The waters around Somalia are among the most dangerous in the world, with heavily armed gangs prepared to venture far offshore to attack vessels.