Somali pirates hijack Indian ship with 21 crew off Oman

08/20/2011 11:37 am ET | Updated Oct 20, 2011

MUMBAI/DUBAI (Reuters) - Somali pirates hijacked a chemical-oil tanker with 21 Indian sailors on board Saturday from near an Omani port, although the exact location was unconfirmed.

India's Directorate General of Shipping said the Fairchem Bogey, managed by Mumbai-based Anglo-Eastern Ship Management, was hijacked while anchored in Salalah port. A Salalah-based shipping source said the vessel was being loaded with methanol when it was seized.

The port's operator, APM Terminals, however, said pirates boarded the vessel while it was two miles off the coast of Oman, awaiting a berth, and comandeered it toward Somalia.

Andrew Mwangura, shipping editor of The Somalia Report, who is based in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa told Reuters the position of the hijacking showed the ship was inside Oman's territorial waters.

"It was captured six nautical miles south of Salalah so it is definitely inside Oman," he said, adding that a country's territorial waters usually stretch out 12 miles into the sea.

"If it is Somali pirates, it means they have a mother ship they are operating with. The high season for piracy has just started."

The end of the southwest monsoon winds in August marks the end of very turbulent high seas In the Gulf of Aden, making it easier for Somali pirates with small vessels to sail out and attack ships, Mwangura said.

Tom Boyd, director of external communications at APM Terminals, told Reuters there were no reported injuries or deaths among the crew, adding that the Omani government was negotiating with the pirates.

APM Terminals has a 30 percent share in Salalah port and operates it for the government.

"The Omani authorities are in discussion with the pirates. Government leaders have met this morning at the palace of the Sultan of Oman. At 8.28 a.m. the vessel sailed in the direction of Somalia," Boyd said.

Oman lies at the mouth of the Gulf, a strategic, heavily patrolled waterway which channels a bulk of the world's crude shipments.

Somali pirates behind similar vessel hijackings usually operate in Indian Ocean waters, but in January, a 20,586-tonne Algerian-flagged bulk carrier was seized about 150 miles southeast of Salalah.

(Reporting by Aditya Phatak in Mumbai, Martina Fuchs in Dubai and Duncan Miriri in Nairobi; Editing by Miral Fahmy and Mike Nesbit)

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