UAE tanker taken by Somali pirates
DUBAI //A UAE oil tanker on its maiden voyage has been hijacked off the coast of Oman.
The MT Royal Grace, a chemical tanker owned by Oyster Cargo and Shipping Company, set off from a Sharjah port for Nigeria three weeks ago with a crew of 22.
"On March 2 we were alerted that there was an attack on the ship and had it confirmed that it was taken by pirates on March 4," said a spokesman at the multinational counter-piracy force EU Navfor.
The hijacking means 21 vessels and 289 hostages are being held by Somali pirates.
Andrew Mwangura, a programme coordinator for the Seafarers' Assistance Programme in Kenya, said he believed the ship was being held off the coast near the town of Garacad in Somalia.
"Among the crew members are three Nigerians, 17 Indians, one Pakistani and a Bangladeshi," Mr Mwangura said. "The ship was on its maiden voyage."
He said the group had not heard of any negotiations between the owners and the pirates for ransom.
"The ship is still fresh and there are no reports of shortage of supplies," Mr Mwangura said.
Family members of the crew said they were worried about the safety of their loved ones, some of whom were at sea for the first time.
Dinu Davis, the brother of crewman Dipin Davis, 22, said yesterday from his home in Kerala that he had last spoken to his sibling on February 28.
"He told us the ship was going to Nigeria and he would not be able to contact us for the next few weeks," Dinu said. "We have not heard from him after that."
He said his brother joined the company in January. "This was the first time he was travelling on the ship."
Dinu pleaded with the hijackers to release the ship and crew members.
"We are all worried after learning about the incident," he said. "My mother is constantly praying for his release."
The family has been going through the newspapers and watching television, desperate to find out more news.
"It's only through one of our friends that we learnt about this. No one from the company has contacted us," said Dinu.
Stanly Vincent, 21, another crew member from Kerala, was also last heard from on February 28.
"Stanly called us and said that the ship is docked at Sharjah port and is all set to leave to Nigeria," said Fasil Ashraf, a friend. "There has been no contact with him after that.
"It was only two days ago that we got to know that the ship has been hijacked and crew has been held hostage."
Mr Ashraf said the family was shattered after hearing the news.
"He was the breadwinner in the family. They are worried about his safety," he said.
He said Stanly used to work as a videographer before joining the ship. "He finished a maritime course and got the job to work in the ship. This was his first trip."
Mr Ashraf said a complaint had been filed with the Indian shipping and defence ministers.
"We are hoping the government will do something to release them fast," he said. "It's sheer bad luck that the ship has been hijacked."
Of the 439 maritime attacks reported to the International Maritime Bureau last year, more than half occurred off the coast of Somalia.
Another Dubai-registered vessel, the MV Iceberg 1, is still being held after nearly two years.
The MV Iceberg 1 is owned by Azal Shipping in Dubai. It was hijacked on March 29, 2010, about 10 nautical miles off the port of Aden in Yemen.
One of the 24 crew members has since died.
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Updated: March 21, 2012 04:00 AM