MOGADISHU, April 4 (Reuters) - Pirates who seized an Indian cargo dhow with 11 crew members in waters off the Somali coast have taken the vessel to El Hur, near the port of Hobyo in Somalia’s semi-autonomous Galmudug state, a pirate leader told Reuters on Tuesday.
Aw Kombe also said the pirates were in touch with businessmen in Kismayu over releasing the vessel, Al Kausar.
“The traders want the dhow be released without ransom but my friends say they may not release without at least some cash,” he added. “They are still discussing.”
The identity and origin of the hijackers was disputed, however. A Galmudug state official said the pirates came from northern Somalia’s semi-autonomous state of Puntland while Kombe, a Puntland pirate leader, put the blame on “our friends from Galmudug state”.
The Al Kausar was commandeered in the vicinity of Socotra Island while en route from Dubai to Puntland’s port of Bosasso, according to United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), which coordinates shipping in the Gulf of Aden area.
Ship owners have become less wary of piracy after a long period of calm off the Horn of Africa, experts say, and some have started using a riskier route known as the Socotra Gap, between Somalia and Socotra Island, to save time and costs.
“The pirates who hijacked the dhow are from Puntland,” said a government official in Galmudug state, who did not want to be named because he was not authorised to speak on the incident.
“No doubt, the Puntland pirates who recently hijacked the oil tanker are now holding the dhow,” he told Reuters, referring to the hijacking last month of an oil tanker.
That was the first such seizure of a vessel since 2012 and the pirates released it within a few days after a clash with Puntland’s marine force.
Burhan Warsame, Galmudug’s minister for ports and sea transport, also told Reuters the same pirates who seized the oil tanker last month “must have hijacked this dhow”.
But Abdirizak Mohamed Dirir, the former general director of Puntland’s anti-piracy agency, said the dhow’s location made it more likely that the pirates were from Galmudug.
Kombe, who headed the pirate gang that commandeered the oil tanker, told Reuters there were four groups of pirates from Puntland “who are still in ocean hunting for ships to hijack”.
“But the dhow is in El Hur near Hobyo and the pirates holding it must be our friends from Galmudug state.”
Reporting by Abdi Sheikh and Abdiqani Hassan; Writing by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Catherine Evans