- Somali pirate involvement also unconfirmed
- Foreign Ministry seeking assistance
â€‹By Himal Kotelawala
Sri Lanka is seeking international assistance through diplomatic channels in ascertaining whether or not any Sri Lankans had been aboard a tanker that disappeared off the seas of Djibouti yesterday.
Although initial reports speculated the incident had been a hijacking carried out by suspected Somali pirates, the Sri Lanka Navy said that neither that nor the presence of Sri Lankans aboard the vessel could be confirmed with information available at the time.
Speaking to Daily FT, Navy Spokesman Lt. Commander Chaminda Walakuluge said until communication was reestablished with the missing ship, what transpired could not be verified. As for the eight Sri Lankans reportedly on the crew of the Comoros Island-registered tanker, Commander Walakuluge said that it had called on Sri Lanka early this year and when it set off from Colombo on 28 January, it handed in a list of its crew to the authorities here. On this list had been eight Sri Lankan crew members.
Between then and now, he said, the ship had visited another international port. Usually when tankers call at different ports, crews may trade places.
Responding to media reports to the effect that the ship had sailed under a Sri Lankan flag, Commander Walakuluge said that the ship – one Aris 13 – had previously been registered in the Lloyd’s Register of Shipping under a Sri Lankan flag. The change had not been updated, he added.
Although speculation is rife that the ship has been taken hostage by Somali pirates, information available at present is not enough to confirm whether it’s indeed a piracy-related matter or if it is connected to some other incident such as a fire hazard, he said.
The last communication from Aris 13 before it went off the grid, according to Walakuluge, was that two high-speed boats had been tailing it, after which it had gone dark.
It cannot be said with certainty that these two boats carried Somali pirates, said Walakuluge, adding that there was no way to tell if they were even suicide boats.
If it does turn out that it is indeed a pirate hijacking, Sri Lanka can only intervene through diplomatic channels. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said Walakuluge, is currently seeking further information. The Navy, he added, can only intervene if the incident had taken place on Sri Lankan waters.
“We can only intervene diplomatically. If the ship does somehow find its way to Somalia, the Somali Government would have to deal with any hostage situation. They can seek international assistance if required,” he said.
Issuing a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that it was “taking action to verify the alleged incident, and initial enquiries have revealed that while the vessel involved is not registered under a Sri Lankan flag, it has an 8 member Sri Lankan crew.”
“The Ministry continues to remain in touch with the shipping agents, concerned authorities, as well as relevant Sri Lanka Missions overseas to ascertain further information on the matter in order to ensure the safety and welfare of the Sri Lankan crew. Therefore, as and when confirmed information regarding the alleged incident becomes available, the Ministry will share information in a manner that would not be prejudicial to the safety of the crew,” it added.