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Tue 14 Mar 2017 10:20 AM

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Update: Somali pirates suspected to have hijacked Dubai-owned ship

Aris 13 is believed to be carrying eight crew members

Update: Somali pirates suspected to have hijacked Dubai-owned ship
Image for illustrative purpose only. (Getty Images)

Somali pirates are suspected to have hijacked a Sri Lankan-flagged fuel freighter after the ship sent a distress call, turned off its tracking system and altered course for the Somali coast, a piracy expert said on Tuesday.

The Dubai-owned Aris 13 is believed to be carrying eight crew members, said John Steed of the aid group Oceans Beyond Piracy. Steed, a former British colonel, has worked on piracy for nearly a decade and is in close contact with naval forces tracking the ship.

If confirmed, the incident would be the first hijack of a commercial ship by Somali pirates since 2012, he said.

"The ship reported it was being followed by two skiffs yesterday afternoon. Then it disappeared," he said.

Aircraft from regional naval force EU Navfor were flying overhead to track the ship's progress and try to determine what was happening, he said.

The 1,800 deadweight ton Aris 13 is owned by Panama company Armi Shipping and managed by Aurora Ship Management in the United Arab Emirates, according to the Equasis shipping data website, managed by the French transport ministry.

The ship was being monitored by the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Organisation (UKMTO), which coordinates the management of all merchant ships and yachts in the Gulf of Aden area, said Noel Choong, head of the International Maritime Bureau’s piracy reporting center in Kuala Lumpur.

The UKMTO in Dubai said it had no further information "at the moment".

The ship was headed for the Somali port of Alula, Steed said. Pirates in the town confirmed to Reuters they were expecting the ship.

In their heyday five years ago, Somali pirates terrorized sailors crossing the Gulf of Aden. They launched 237 attacks off the coast of Somalia in 2011, the International Maritime Bureau says, and held hundreds of hostages.

That year, Ocean's Beyond Piracy estimated the global cost of piracy was around $7 billion. The shipping industry bore around 80 percent of those costs, the aid group's analysis showed.

But attacks fell sharply after ship owners tightened security and avoided the Somali coast.

Intervention by regional naval forces that flooded into the area helped disrupt several hijack bids and secure the strategic trade route that leads through the Suez Canal and links the oilfields of the Middle East with European ports.

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