UPDATE on March 16 at 9:22 p.m.: Somali pirates who seized an oil tanker have released the ship and it's eight Sri Lankan crew members without conditions, officials said late Thursday.
Security official Ahmed Mohamed said the release occurred after local elders and officials opened negotiations with the pirates, who were allowed to leave and not be arrested.
Mohamed said the pirates told the authorities that they seized the ship to protest illegal fishing in the area that has threatened livelihoods.
After a decreasing trend in international piracy activity, Somali officials and piracy experts said on Tuesday that pirates have hijacked an oil tanker off the coast of Somalia, the Associated Press reported. This marks the first seizure of a large commercial vessel on the global trade route since 2012. According to John Steed of Oceans Beyond Piracy, the Aris 13 on Monday reported being approached by two skiffs while carrying fuel from Djibouti to Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. Eight Sri Lankan crew members were aboard.
An official said that 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 Qaeda-linked extremist group al-Shabab.
Salad Nur, a local elder, told the Associated Press that the ship is on the coast now and that more armed men have boarded the ship, including young fisherman and former pirates.
It's not immediately clear who owned the ship. Sri Lanka's foreign ministry said the ship wasn't registered under its flag, but it did confirm that eight of its crew members were employed on the vessel. The ministry added that it's in touch with shipping agents and officials abroad to help ensure the crew's "safety and welfare."
Piracy off Somalia's coast was once a serious threat to the global shipping industry but has largely lessened in recent years thanks to international patrolling efforts near Somalia, a country with a weak central government that's been plagued by more than a quarter-century of conflict.