Indian agencies are facing problems negotiating with Somali pirates who are holding 22 crewmembers — including 17 Indians — onboard a hijacked Nigeria-bound oil tanker.
The tanker, MT Royal Grace, was hijacked after it set off on its maiden voyage from a Sharjah port on March 2. But the Dubai-based owners, Oyster Cargo and Shipping Company, are yet to get in touch with Indian authorities on the issue.
"The ship is owned by a Nigerian national based in Dubai, who is not responding to any talks of negotiation. All we know at the moment is that the Indian sailors are safe," said a senior DG shipping official, requesting anonymity.
Three Nigerians, a Pakistani and a Bangladeshi are also on board the Royal Grace. But all the crew's families were told about the hijacking only a few days ago.
The pirates had reportedly sent an e-mail to the ship owners on March 4. According to their latest communiqué, the ship is heading towards the Somali coast and is positioned at Bargal district on the Somalian coast, sources told HT.
In a statement, the ministry of external affairs said, "We are aware of this situation. We are pursuing this through our various missions. But the pirate issue is handled by an inter-ministerial group headed by the shipping ministry."
The hijackers are reportedly a small group of pirates from the Majeerteen clan, which was responsible for hijacking MV Asphalt Venture in 2010. The crewmembers of Asphalt Venture were released in May 2011.
According to the International Maritime Bureau, Somali pirates continue to account for approximately 54% of the attempted piracies. The number of incidents increased from 219 in 2010 to 237 in 2011, but the number of successful hijackings decreased from 49 to 28.