x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Somali pirates seize UAE-owned ship

The MT Asphalt Venture was sailing from Mombasa in Kenya to Durban when it was seized along with its 15-member crew.

DUBAI // Somali pirates hijacked a UAE-owned ship early yesterday and took its 15-member crew captive, the European naval force in the region confirmed last night. 

The MT Asphalt Venture was sailing from Mombasa in Kenya to Durban, South Africa, when it was seized, said Ecoterra Intl, a piracy monitoring organisation based in Kenya. The ship's course has now been redirected towards the Harardheere on the central Somali coast. 

OMCI Ship Management, the Mumbai-based company that manages the vessel, confirmed that the Venture, owned by Bitumen Invest AS in Sharjah, had veered off course.  "It is off-course from where it should be. We are trying to contact the vessel but so far have not had any confirmation," said Capt P N Hooghan, the vice-president for marine human resources.  OMCI has alerted the UK Maritime Trade Operation, the Indian director general of shipping, and Panama, the flagship of the vessel. 

It has also notified the families of the crew members, who are all Indian. "We will do whatever is best to get the crew back so they are safe and sound," said Capt Hooghan.  Lt John Fage, a spokesman for the US Fifth Fleet, which is based in Bahrain and patrols the Gulf and surrounding area, confirmed that the Venture had been out of contact since Tuesday evening. .  Bitumen Invest AS could not be reached for comment. 

If it continues unhindered, the Venture may reach the central Somali coast in three days. But because local elders and authorities there have been trying to chase hijacked ships away, from there the vessel could continue north, said Hans-Juergen Duwe, spokesman for Ecoterra Intl.  "The vast majority of the local people want to have development, not these criminal gangs around," he said. "The people are trying to make life difficult for the pirate gangs, who need supplies and access."

Often, the local residents cannot confront the pirates - who have more money and weapons - without risking fighting among clans and sub-clans.  "But they try to do it in a more laid- back way, and it's been partly successful," he said. 

chuang@thetnational.ae