x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Pirates seize RAK-based ship and crew

Somali pirates hijacked a UAE-operated ship carrying 26 crew three days after it left port in the Seychelles.

RAS AL KHAIMAH // Somali pirates yesterday hijacked a UAE-operated ship carrying 26 crew three days after it left port in the Seychelles. The MV RAK Afrikana, which is licensed in the Caribbean island of St Vincent but operates from RAK with a UAE-based crew, was seized yesterday morning as it carried general cargo from the Seychelles to the Zanzibar archipelago off Africa's east coast.

Capt Agay Kotwal, a director of Al Sindbad Shipping and Marine, received a call from the ship's captain at about 9am as the pirates attacked. "The captain called me and told me they were almost on the vessel," Capt Kotwal said. "He told me they were almost over the bridge and the phone cut off." The 7,500-ton ship, carrying crew from India, Pakistan and Tanzania, had departed the Seychelles three days earlier.

"The ship was 700 miles from the Somalian coast and she is pretty far out. In the meantime, naval forces will intercept and see what can be done," said Capt Kotwal. The ship was approximately 280 nautical miles west of the Seychelles, according to the European Union Naval Force (Eunavfor), which protects vulnerable ships from piracy in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean. Eight individuals were seen aboard the ship by Eunavfor Maritime Patrol aircraft. Three of them are suspected pirates.

The Associated Press reported that the ship appeared to have engine problems at the time it was hijacked. Eunavfor reported that the ship had stopped. There has been no contact with his crew since the pirates boarded. "They would not get in touch with us or answer," Capt Kotwal said. "We have informed all of the international authorities, we are taking the appropriate action and we will wait for the pirates to communicate with us and see what they demand," he said. "We are trying to contact all the crew and family and give them the information about this and what procedures have been set up."

Last month, Emirates-based dhow owners placed an embargo on trade between the UAE and southern Somalia. The action came after a surge in hijackings that saw 97 Indian nationals taken hostage on six dhows in an eight-day period. Somali pirates have pushed further into the Indian Ocean, notably towards the Seychelles, using mother ships to launch attacks from the open sea. azacharias@thenational.ae