Poisoned waters and illegal fishing drove Somalis into sea piracy to feed families, according to relatives.
Pirates in Somalia have hijacked an oil tanker with eight Sri Lankan crew onboard, the first time they have successfully taken a commercial ship since 2012.
Mohamud Ahmed Eynab, district commissioner for Alula town in Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Puntland, said on Tuesday that a day earlier “the pirates hijacked the oil tanker and they brought it near Alula”.
A local elder, Salad Nur, told AP news agency by phone “more armed men boarded the ship”, saying young local fishermen, including former pirates, hijacked the ship.
“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,” Nur said.
“Foreign fishermen destroyed their livelihoods and deprived them of proper fishing.”
John Steed, a former British army officer who heads the Horn of Africa section of the Oceans Beyond Piracy NGO, said the Aris 13 was carrying fuel from Djibouti to Mogadishu when it was hijacked.
It’s crew sent a distress signal on Monday afternoon, he said.
“Yesterday afternoon, the ship reported that it was followed by two skiffs. After that, it went silent and the owner of the ship was not able to get into contact,” Steed said, adding demands had not been made yet by the hijackers.
The Sri Lankan government said it had eight Sri Lankan crew onboard and flew a flag from the Comoros Islands.
A UN shipping database shows the Aris 13 is owned by a Panama company called Armi Shipping SA, whose address is listed in care of Aurora Ship Management FZE, a company based in Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates.
Australian government records from 2014 list the ship’s owner as Flair Shipping Trading FZE in the UAE.
Argyrios Karagiannis, the managing director of Flair Shipping, declined AP’s request to comment.
“We will not be releasing any information,” Karagiannis said before shutting the door.
The European Union Naval Force (NAVFOR), which runs anti-piracy operations in the area, sent a maritime patrol aircraft to the coast of Somalia to investigate the incident, a spokeswoman said.
She said the force does not classify the incident as piracy so far.
Somali pirates began staging waves of attacks in 2005, seriously disrupting a major international shipping route.
The attacks – which in 2012 cost the global economy $5.7bn to $6.1bn – prompted interventions by the UN, EU, and NATO.
Many commercial shippers began hiring private armed guards for their vessels.
At the peak of the piracy crisis in January 2011, 736 hostages and 32 boats were held.
Though anti-piracy measures ended attacks on commercial vessels, fishing boats have continued to face assaults.
With the seas empty of fish because of toxic waste dumping and illegal fishing by foreign trawlers, many Somalis say they have no choice but to turn to piracy to survive.