Pirates hijack Indian vessel off coast of Somalia

BOSASSO, Somalia, April 3 (Reuters) - Pirates have hijacked an Indian commercial vessel off the coast of Somalia, the second attack in weeks after years without such seizures, industry and security sources said on Monday.

United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), which coordinates the management of merchant ships and yachts in the Gulf of Aden area, said it had received information that a dhow en route to Bosasso from Dubai had been hijacked "in the vicinity of Socotra (Island)."

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A spokesman said UKMTO could not confirm the location of the vessel, which he identified as Al Kausar, or what exactly had taken place. Investigations were continuing.

"We understand Somali pirates hijacked a commercial Indian ship (and it is heading) towards Somalia shores," Abdirizak Mohamed Dirir, a former director of the anti-piracy agency in Somalia's semi-autonomous Puntland region, told Reuters.

Somali pirates hijacked an oil tanker last month, the first such seizure of a vessel since 2012, but released it after a clash with the Puntland marine force.

Somalis have been angered by a recent influx of foreign fishermen into their waters, some of whom have been given licenses to operate there by the Somali government.

Graeme Gibbon-Brooks of UK-based Dryad Maritime Security said industry sources had told him the Indian vessel had been en route to Bosasso from Dubai when it was hijacked on Saturday.

The pirates on board were taking the ship and its 11 crew members to Eyl in Puntland, he said.

Muse Osman Yusuf, Eyl's district commissioner, said authorities were ready to confront the pirates.

"We shall not allow it. Puntland maritime police forces have a base here and we shall fight the pirates in case they come," he told Reuters.

An Indian government official said the 11 crew were all Indian and that officials were in touch with the Somali government.

"This confirms that the pirates still have the ability to go to sea and take vessels, and the international shipping industry needs to take additional precautions," John Steed of the aid group Oceans Beyond Piracy told Reuters.

In 2011, pirates launched 237 attacks off the coast of Somalia, according to the International Maritime Bureau, and took hundreds of hostages.

Shipping companies responded with security measures such as armed guards, blocking easy entry points to vessels with barbed wire and installing secure panic rooms.

In a separate incident, UKMTO said on its website that early on Monday six skiffs had approached a vessel and that ladders and hooks were sighted.

Armed guards on board the vessel took up positions and the skiffs departed, leaving the vessel unharmed, UKTMO said. (Additional reporting by Katharine Houreld and George Obulutsa in Nairobi, Jonathan Saul in London and Tommy Wilkes and Nidhi Verma in New Delhi; Writing by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Andrew Roche)