Somali pirates hijack oil tanker and demand ransom

Pirates have hijacked an oil tanker off the coast of Somalia and demanded a ransom - the first such seizure since 2012.

The Aris 13, a ship carrying fuel from Djibouti to Somalia's capital Mogadishu, was approached by two skiffs - rowing boats - on Monday, according to officials and piracy experts.

Two dozen men boarded the ship off the East African country's northern coast, known to be used by weapons smugglers and members of al-Qaida-linked extremist group al-Shabab.

Eight Sri Lankan crew members are believed to have been on board the ship, according to an official, speaking under the condition of anonymity.

An EU Naval Force statement said the operation had finally made contact with the ship's master, who confirmed that armed men were aboard the Comoros-flagged tanker Aris 13.

The last pirate hijacking of a large commercial vessel along the crucial globe trade route was back in 2012.

War-torn Somalia has often been referred to in the past as a "failed state".

Piracy was once a serious threat to global trade off the Somali coast Credit: AP

According to a local elder, the ship is now anchored off the town of Alula, in the northeastern Bari province of Somalia.

"The ship is on the coast now and more armed men boarded the ship," the elder said.

An official with knowledge of the incident said that no ransom demand had been made by the pirates.

"The vessel's captain reported to the company they were approached by two skiffs and that one of them they could see armed personnel on board," the official said.

"The ship changed course quite soon after that report and is now anchored."

It was not immediately clear who owned the ship or where it was flagged.

A British-based spokeswoman for the European Union Naval Force operation off Somalia confirmed the incident and said that an investigation was underway.

Piracy off Somalia's coast was once a serious threat to the global shipping industry.

But in recent years, thanks to an international effort to patrol near the country, hijacking incidents have become less common.