An oil tanker with eight Sri Lankan crew on board has been hijacked off the coast of Djibouti.
On Monday, the Aris 13 issued a distress call and set a course for the Somali town of Alula, according to agency reports. This was after two high-speed skiffs were reported to have been following the ship.
Agencies reported that the ship turned off its tracking system on Monday. The Navy reported that the French Maritime Rescue Coordination Center (MRCC) had notified the Rescue Coordinating Center (RCC) in Colombo of the ongoing situation.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Sri Lanka Navy have confirmed the presence of Sri Lankans on the ship, but noted that the ship was not sailing under a Sri Lankan flag. The ship is allegedly sailing under the Comoros Islands’ flag but was previously registered in Sri Lanka.Navy Spokesman Lt. Commander Chaminda Walakuluge stated that the 1800 deadweight ton tanker was owned by Armi Shipping and managed by The United Arab Emirates company Aurora Ship Management.
It is unclear whether the pirates have looted the ship or taken it and the crew is under their control, according to the Navy spokesman.
“In addition, we have notified the UN Drugs and Traffic Control, and we have asked each of these agencies to enable us to rescue the eight Sri Lankans onboard this vessel,” Walakuluge said. Agencies reported that the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Organization (UKMTO), a company that manages merchant ships and private yachts in the Gulf of Aden, has been monitoring the ship, but that there has been a breakdown in communication between the ship and authorities.
Aircraft from the European Union’s regional naval force had been conducting surveillance flights in order to determine what was happening onboard, agency reports stated. “This had occurred in the Gulf of Aden. This area is frequently patrolled by maritime security patrols and anti-piracy operations patrols conducted by the Combined Maritime Patrol Force. The Combined Task Force, which comes under the Combined Maritime Patrol Force, CTF 151, is responsible for counter piracy actions. We have informed these organisations and they are on high alert,” said Walakuluge.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement Tuesday noting that it is working to verify the various reports and still gathering information. The identities of the Sri Lankan crew are yet unknown.
“The Ministry continues to remain in touch with the shipping agents, concerned authorities, as well as relevant Sri Lanka Missions overseas to ascertain further information on the matter in order to ensure the safety and welfare of the Sri Lankan crew,” the statement read in part.
This would be the first successful hijacking of a merchant vessel by Somali pirates since 2012.(Daily News)