The Somalian authorities have informed the Sri Lankan authorities that there was a high probability of the Aris 13 crew being released within the next two to three days,
according Navy Spokesperson, Lt. Commander Chaminda Walakuluge.
Yesterday, foreign agencies reported that Somali maritime forces have exchanged gunfire with the hijackers of an oil tanker in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland.
“We tried to intercept a boat that was carrying supplies to the pirates, but pirates on the ship fired on us and so the pirate boat escaped,” agencies reported Abdirahman Mohamud Hassan, the Director General of the Maritime Force in the semiautonomous northern region of Puntland to have said.
The names of the crew have been confirmed to be: Nicholas Sebamalai Anthony Thangenthren (Captain), Kulappu Thantirige Premnath Ruwan Sampath, Dileepa Nishan Anuranga Ranaweera, Bulathsinghalage Sunil Perera, Vidanapathirana Lahiru Indunil, Jayantha Kalubowila, Lokuthota Hewage Janaka Shamendra and Appucutty Shanmugam.
Relatives of the crew yesterday visited the Ministry of Ports and Shipping and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to be briefed on the Sri Lankan government’s efforts to rescue their loved ones. Reports of the incident from the two ministries however vary. The local ship manning agent informed the media that this was not a piracy issue but a group of local fishermen having hijacked the vessel while the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mangala Samaraweera informed the media that they have been officially informed that this was a case of ‘piracy’.
“The oil tanker which was registered under temporary Sri Lankan flagship, left Colombo Harbour on January 28 and then switched to a Comoros Island flag,”said Acting Minister of Ports and Shipping Nishantha Muthuhettigama as he addressed the relatives and media at the Ministry.
A Sri Lankan shipping manning agency, A J Shipping spokesman which recruited five out of the eight crew said that the Greek owner of the vessel, had informed them that this was not a case of piracy. “We have been told that the tanker was hijacked by a group of fishermen. The tanker was transporting Somalian cargo; oil needed by their government. This has put the fishermen in a difficult position and they cannot ask for ransom as this would put their own families on land in danger,”A J Shipping agent Tiron Fernando said stressing that no offer of ransom has been made.
He added that the Somalian Coastguards were in communication with the hijackers and their fisheries associations and that they have been informed that the crew were unharmed and not in danger.
“Are they being given food? What are they eating? We cannot eat here when we don’t know if they have eaten”, asked a tearful wife of Sunil Perera, Samudra Bulathsinghala, unsure of the agent’s reassurance.
Bulathsinghala who questioned as to why there was no security on board the ship was answered by Ajith Seneviratne, Director General of Merchant Shipping, who said that it was the responsibility of the ship owners to have armed guards on board.“Up to 2012, many ships had on board security but as of 2012, no incidents were reported in that area, so ships became lax,”he said. It is the responsibility of ship owners to protect their crew and cargo,”he said. When asked if the company would pay demands of a ransom, he said, “The Company’s number one priority is the crew. I believe the owner would do the needful.”
Reassuring many of the relatives as wife of Jayantha Kalubowila, Amitha Gunasekara said, “We believe that the company will do the needful to get them released”.
Ransom has been a main concern as past cases of piracy have all been resolved through the paying of a ransom. Lt Commander Walakuluge speaking to the Daily News said it was the Company’s responsibility to negotiate on a ransom. “The Government does not negotiate with terrorists and they do not pay. They would only act as facilitator to get back the crew home safe,”he said. The Foreign Ministry in the meantime is holding discussions with the governments of Djibouti and Somalia in a bid to rescue the crew. Foreign Minister, Mangala Samaraweera addressing a media briefing yesterday said the newly appointed Sri Lankan Ambassador to Ethiopia, Sumith Dissanayake was in contact with the foreign governments and the heads of the government of Puntland to resolve the issue. Aid group Oceans Beyond Piracy said in a statement late on Tuesday said the ship was carrying gas and fuel and was not registered with the Maritime Security Center for the Horn of Africa, which registers and tracks vessels in the region.
The group said the Aris 13 was preparing to go through a route known as the Socotra Gap, between Somalia and Socotra Island which vessels often use, regardless of the piracy risks, to save time and cost.
Govt urges Puntland navy to stop firing at ship
Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister Harsha de Silva yesterday spoke with the Puntland President Chief of Staff and had asked that the autonomous region’s navy stop firing at the Aris 13.
“We requested that they kindly stop firing because our citizens need to be saved.
We asked for them to let negotiations take place between the owners of the ship and the people who are holding the ship hostage,” said de Silva.
“Our Ambassador was present at the owner’s office in Fujairah, in the United Arab Emirates, and he stressed that negotiations must continue. We are putting pressure from all sides, and the firing has stopped,” he said.
The captain of the hijacked ship, S.A Nicholas, had told local media over the phone yesterday that the Sri Lankan government should urge the Somali authorities not to fire at the vessel, as it could put the lives of the crew in danger.
Nicholas had said that the hostages were safe, but he raised fears that they could get hurt in the crossfire if Puntland maritime forces fire at the ship again.
Foreign agencies had reported that the Puntland navy had exchanged gunfire with the hijackers of the oil tanker in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland.(Daily News)