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Pirates hijack Indian vessel off coast of Somalia

BOSASSO, Somalia (Reuters) - Pirates have hijacked an Indian commercial vessel off the coast of Somalia, the second attack in weeks after years without such seizures, industry and security sources said on Monday.

United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), which coordinates shipping in the Gulf of Aden area, said it had received information that a dhow had been hijacked “in the vicinity of Socotra (Island)”.

It named the vessel as Al Kausar and said it had been en route from Dubai to the port of Bosasso in northern Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region.

The EU naval force which patrols off Somalia’s coast as part of an international anti-piracy operation said on Monday afternoon the dhow had been spotted further south, off the Somali port of Hobyo.

“An EU Naval Force maritime patrol aircraft has confirmed the exact location of the dhow and has attempted to establish radio communications but without success,” it said in a statement on its website.

“Investigations and operations are ongoing.”

Burhan Warsame, Galmudug region’s minister for ports and sea transport, said the authorities there would not allow the ship to dock in Hobyo, which falls under its jurisdiction.

“We assure you pirates cannot bring it here. We have strong Galmudug forces at Hobyo,” he told Reuters.

Somali pirates hijacked an oil tanker last month, the first such seizure of a vessel since 2012, but released it after a clash with the marine force in Puntland.

Muse Osman Yusuf, district commissioner in the Puntland port of Eyl, said on Monday authorities were ready to confront whoever had seized the Indian dhow.

“We shall not allow it. Puntland maritime police forces have a base here and we shall fight the pirates in case they come,” he told Reuters.

An Indian government official said the 11 crew were all Indian and that officials were in touch with the Somali government.


“This confirms that the pirates still have the ability to go to sea and take vessels, and the international shipping industry needs to take additional precautions,” John Steed of the aid group Oceans Beyond Piracy told Reuters.

In 2011, pirates launched 237 attacks off the coast of Somalia, according to the International Maritime Bureau, and took hundreds of hostages.

Shipping companies responded with security measures such as armed guards, blocking easy entry points to vessels with barbed wire and installing secure panic rooms.

In a separate incident, UKMTO said on its website that early on Monday six skiffs had approached a vessel in the southern Red Sea and that ladders and hooks were sighted.

Armed guards on board the vessel took up positions and the skiffs departed, leaving the vessel unharmed, UKTMO said.

Somalis have been angered by a recent influx of foreign fishermen into their waters, some of whom have been given licences to operate there by the Somali government.

Experts said ship owners were becoming lax after a long period of calm, and that some were using a route known as the Socotra Gap, between Somalia and Socotra Island, regardless of the piracy risks, to save time and cost.

Additional reporting by Katharine Houreld and George Obulutsa in Nairobi, Jonathan Saul in London and Tommy Wilkes and Nidhi Verma in New Delhi; Writing by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Hugh Lawson