British-registered ship hijacked

A British-registered oil tanker and its crew hijacked by militia off the northeastern coast of Somalia are being held by their captors, a local journalist told IRIN on Monday.

The members of the crew, who were taken from the vessel to the coastal village of Bareda, 150 km east of Bosaso, the commercial capital of the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland, had now been divided into small groups and sent to a number of different locations, Mukhtar Sa'id of the Bosaso-based Midnimo Radio, said

Another source in Bosaso told IRIN that the militia had done this in order to "make it difficult to rescue them". "Reports of British warships looking for the ship and crew may have scared them", he said. The ship's captain, however, was still being held in Bareda, said Mukhtar.

The 15 militia who originally seized the tanker, using speedboats, had now been joined by "many other militia from area" said Mukhtar. So far the hijackers had made no demands, "but in previous situations like this, they have demanded ransom", he added. The Puntland administration of Col Abdullahi Yusuf had not yet issued any statement regarding the ship, Mukhtar told IRIN.

He said the crew was reported to be in good health, but that there was concern over shortage of water and food, he said. Also of concern in relation to the crew is the fact that temperatures in the area can rise to as high as 50 degrees centigrade, which even the local people find "unbearable", according to Mukhtar.