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Somali pirates release hijacked oil tanker, hostages

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An armed Somali pirate keeping vigil on the coastline near Hobyo, northeastern Somalia on January 4, 2010. PHOTO | AFP 

By AFP

Posted  Friday, March 17   2017 at  11:43

In Summary

  • The successful release came after a fierce firefight between the coast guard and armed men aboard a boat believed to be taking food and provisions to the hijacked tanker.

Somali pirates on Thursday handed over an oil tanker and eight Sri Lankan hostages captured just days ago, the Oceans Beyond Piracy NGO told AFP, bringing to a close the first such attack since 2012.

"The Puntland maritime police force freed the ship. They made (the pirates) an offer they couldn't refuse and the pirates have left," said John Steed, a former British army officer with the NGO who has spent years negotiating the release of piracy hostages in Somalia.

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

Armed attackers seized the Aris 13 on Monday as it made its way from Djibouti to Mogadishu, the first hijacking of a large merchant vessel by Somali pirates since 2012.

Steed said the pirates had left the Aris 13 ship, which was under control of the coast guard and on its way to the port city of Bossaso in the semi-autonomous Puntland region, on the northeastern tip of Somalia.

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

Abdirahman Mohamud Hassan, the director general of the Puntland maritime force, said earlier that a regional governor, who was not named, had been appointed to negotiate with the pirates.

Fierce firefight

The successful release came after a fierce firefight between the coast guard and armed men aboard a boat believed to be taking food and provisions to the hijacked tanker.

"Our forces were doing a normal routine patrolling around the area when they came under gunfire from these gunmen who were onboard a small skiff and they returned fire," said Hassan.

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

At the time the tanker was taken it 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.

He said the vessel was not following the "best practices" put in place to avoid piracy, since it was taking a cost- and time-saving route too close to Somalia's coastline, was travelling too slowly and was without an armed escort.

Illegal fishing fuels piracy

Village elders in Alula where the hijacked vessel first docked, said the pirates had not made clear demands, but claimed to be driven by anger over illegal fishing.

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