Explosion heard from ship off the coast of Somalia, official says

BOSASSO, Somalia (Reuters) - A huge explosion was heard from a ship off the coast of Somalia’s Puntland region late on Monday and flames were seen rising from what might be a foreign vessel, an official in a nearby port said.

“We heard (a) huge explosion and (saw) flame rising from the ship. I believe that the ship is foreign,” Ali Shire, mayor of Puntland’s port town of Alula, a pirate haven, told Reuters on Tuesday.

It was not immediately clear whether the explosion was caused by an accident onboard the vessel or was triggered by pirate attackers. It was also not clear whether the vessel was still afloat or had sunk.

Jacqueline Sherriff, spokeswoman for the European Union Naval Force (EU NAVFOR), told Reuters in an email they were aware of reports about a possible explosion on a vessel and were working with the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) to confirm details.

“I can confirm that all EU NAVFOR warships and crews are safe and we have not been asked to assist with an incident.”

Abdi Jama, a resident of Muranyo village near Alula, told Reuters the vessel had been in the area for two days before the explosion occurred and that he had seen a helicopter land on and take off from the vessel some time before the blast.

He said the explosion turned the vessel “into flames and huge clouds of smoke”.

Somali pirates often prowl waters around Alula. In March,

they hijacked an oil tanker, Aris 13, with eight Sri Lankan crew on board, the first time a commercial ship was commandeered in the region since 2012.

Several foreign navies, including from the European Union, China and others, often operate in the area as part of anti-piracy missions.

Reporting by Abdiqani Hassan; additional reporting and writing by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Paul Tait and Richard Balmforth