Criminals have hijacked an oil tanker off the coast of Somalia in the Indian Ocean.
Pirates hijacked the large ship called the Aris 13 on Monday.
The hijacking surprised the global shipping industry. It was the first attack on a large ship by East African pirates since 2012.
Naval patrols carried out by members of the NATO defense alliance and also China, India and Iran, had decreased Somali pirate attacks for several years.
However, the United Nations warned in October that the situation was not secure. It said Somali pirates still have the ability and the will to restart attacks.
John Steed is director of Oceans Beyond Piracy. He said the Aris 13 has a crew of eight Sri Lankan sailors. It was carrying fuel from Djibouti to Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, before it was seized.
An official in the semiautonomous state of Puntland said the ship was approached by two small boats off Somalia’s northern coast. More than 20 men then boarded the ship.
Weapons smugglers and members of the al-Qaida-linked extremist group al-Shabab are known to be in the area.
Ship is anchored off the coast of Somalia
The ship was near the town of Alula on Tuesday, said Salad Nur, a local elder. "The ship is on the coast now and more armed men boarded the ship," he told The Associated Press by telephone.
"They have been sailing through the ocean in search for a foreign ship to hijack since yesterday morning and found this ship and boarded it."
An official based in the Middle East with knowledge of the incident said no demands for money have been made. The captain reported that when the two small boats came near the ship, crew members could see armed men on the boats.
"The ship changed course quite soon after that report and is now anchored," the official said.
A Britain-based spokeswoman for the European Union Naval Force operation of Somalia, Flight Lieutenant Louise Tagg, said an investigation was taking place.
The U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet is based in Bahrain. It oversees anti-piracy efforts in the area, but it did not immediately answer a request for comment.
Sri Lanka's Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it had contacted shipping agents and foreign officials for more information. It said it is seeking to help ensure the crew's "safety and welfare."
“The pirates never went away”
Although the incident is the first major pirate attack near Somalia since 2012, John Steed said the pirates did not leave.
"The pirates never went away, they were just doing other forms of crime.”
Somali pirates usually hijack ships and crew for ransom, or payment of money. They do not normally kill hostages unless they come under attack.
Piracy off Somalia's coast was once a serious threat to the global shipping industry. However, an international effort to patrol the oceans near Somalia has reduced the threat.
Recently, local fishermen, including former pirates, have grown angry about the continued presence of illegal foreign fishing boats in Somalia’s waters.
Salad Nur, the local elder, told the AP that young fishermen, including former pirates, have hijacked the ship.
"Foreign fishermen destroyed their livelihoods and deprived them of proper fishing," he said.
However, John Steed doubts the pirates are only fishermen. He called the claim “highly unlikely.”
I’m Phil Dierking
Abdi Guled and Jon Gambrell reported this story for AP. Phil Dierking adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.
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Words in This Story
anchored – adj. held firmly in place.
deprived – adj. not having the things that are needed for a good or healthy life
livelihood – n. a way of earning money in order to live
hostage – n. a person who is captured by someone who demands that certain things be done before the captured person is freed
pirate – n. someone who attacks and steals from a ship at sea
semiautonomous – adj. a country, state, or community that has a degree of, but not complete, self-government.
smuggler – n. someone who moves items from one country to another illegally and secretly