Pirates OPEN FIRE at navy vessels from hijacked oil tanker

Maritime and Somali regional officials said the hijackers moved the ship to Haabo from its original location off the coast of Alula to the west.

Earlier on Thursday the Puntland coastguard had threatened to use force if the talks to convince the pirates to release the vessel failed.

He says the release occurred after negotiations by local elders and local officials with the pirates, who seized the tanker on Monday.

He was not able to provide more details on the conditions for the release of the vessel.

"We tried to intercept a boat that was carrying supplies to the pirates, but the pirates on the ship fired on us and so the pirate boat escaped", said Abdirahman Mohamud Hassan, the director general of the maritime force of Puntland.

The hijackers, who insisted they were fishermen, not pirates, said they wanted "compensation" for illegal fishing off the coast of Somalia, but did not make specific ransom demands. But he said it is normal for pirates to send threats once they feel pressured.

Steed said an unknown number of people had been injured in the exchange of gunfire.

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The tanker was forced to change course and head toward Puntland. The Aris 13 was about 18 kilometres off the Somali coast when it was attacked, according to Steed.

The cost and time saving route, paired with the ship's slow speed and lack of armed escort, left it vulnerable to attack. However, they are often harassed by illegal fisherman and large foreign trawlers off the country's north coast. "They desperately need to show their grievances by seizing the boat", said Abdiwahab Ahmed, an elder in Alula.

In their heyday in 2010, bands of Somali pirates hijacked almost 50 ships and captured more than 1,000 sailors, causing an estimated $7 billion loss to the shipping industry.

A United Nations report seen by the AP in November said Somali pirates retain the capacity and intent to resume the attacks and lately have shifted to targeting smaller foreign fishing boats.

Contact via a telephone call has since been made with the ship's master from the EU Naval Force operation in London.

The ship had been carrying fuel from Djibouti to Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, on Monday, when it was seized by two vessels.

  • Marjorie Miles