Somali official says pirates open fire on local naval forces

Somali official says pirates open fire on local naval forces”

"Aris 13, that his ship and crew are now being held captive by a number of suspected armed pirates in an anchorage off the north coast of Puntland, close to Alula", the force said in a statement late on Tuesday.

Regional forces are also mobilising in a bid to free the ship. "They made (the pirates) an offer they couldn't refuse and the pirates have left", said John Steed, a former British army officer with the NGO who has spent years negotiating the release of piracy hostages in Somalia.

The release followed a gunfight earlier in the day between the pirates and the marine force, and then intensive negotiations between the marine force, clan elders and the pirates. It came as a surprise to the global shipping industry as worldwide patrols had suppressed pirate hijackings for several years.

An official in the semi-autonomous state of Puntland said more than two dozen men boarded the ship off Somalia's northern coast, an area known to be used by weapons smugglers and members of the al-Qaida-linked extremist group al-Shabab.

The successful release came after a fierce firefight between the coast guard and armed men aboard a boat believed to be taking food and provisions to the hijacked tanker. An unnamed Somali official said the firefight erupted after authorities tried to intercept a boat carrying supplies to the pirates.

Naval forces have now boarded it and were escorting the ship to Bossaso port, the region's commercial hub.

"Pirates on the ship fired on us and so the pirate boat escaped", the director general told Reuters news agency. The ships tracking system has reportedly been switched off.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera told during a media conference held in Colombo today that Sri Lankan Ambassador to Ethiopia is engaged in talks with the Somali government in order to release the Sri Lankans ship crew.

The ship was anchored off the town of Alula, said Salad Nur, a local elder. Pirates have traditionally been wary of tangling with Somalia's powerful businessmen.

Illegal fishing has always been used by Somali pirates as an excuse for attacks and Steed has in the past warned that the presence of foreign vessels emptying Somali waters could reverse the gains against piracy. 'Foreign fishermen destroyed their livelihoods and deprived them of proper fishing'.

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