MUSCAT // Somali pirates hijacked a tanker with 21 Indian sailors on board while it was being loaded just three kilometres from an Omani port yesterday.
Last night the Fairchem Bogey, owned by an Indian firm, was heading toward Somalia after it was seized while it was loading its cargo near Salalah in Oman's far west at about 8.30am, port officials said.
While pirates have continued to stray further north and east in the Indian Ocean to capture ships, the fact that the attack took place so close to a port will cause further alarm for ship operators.
There were "no reports of injuries or deaths to the crew," Peter Ford, the CEO of Salalah Port, told The National.
He added that the Port of Salalah was investigating the hijacking in cooperation with Omani authorities.
Oman Directorate General of Shipping said earlier yesterday the Fairchem Bogey, which is managed by the Mumbai-based Anglo-Eastern Ship Management, was hijacked while loading methanol.
The port's operator APM Terminals, however, said earlier pirates boarded the vessel while it was waiting at berth.
Somali pirates have started operating further north and east from their traditional hunting grounds in the Indian Ocean. This is in part due to the impact of a heavily patrolled "International Recommended Transit Corridor" created through the Gulf of Aden two years ago.
In January, a 20,586-tonne Algerian-flagged bulk carrier was seized about 240km south-east of Salalah. The ship, with 27 crew from Algeria, Ukraine and the Philippines, was heading to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Salalah has become home to a growing number of private security companies that use the port as a base to ferry armed guards out to commercial ships before they reach the most dangerous waters, The National reported in May.
"This entire area is in the red zone," Mr Ford said at the time.
Roughly one-fifth of the world's daily oil shipments pass along through the Strait of Hormuz, along Oman's coast and into the northern Indian Ocean.
Pirates took 1,181 hostages last year and reportedly cost the global economy as much as $12 billion (Dh44bn). The average ransom paid is now more than $4 million.
With additional reporting by Reuters