An undated handout picture released by Japanese shipping company Mitsui OSK Line shows the oil tanker M.Star. Image Credit: Reuters

A commercial vessel, believed to be operated by a company based in the UAE, has been hijacked off the coast of Somalia.

Armed men took over an oil tanker identified as Aris 13 on Monday and held eight workers from Sri Lanka, in what is said to be the first seizure of a large commercial vessel on one of the busiest shipping routes since 2012.

The EU Naval Force, which is currently operating in the area, has confirmed the incident, citing that the pirates have now asked for a ransom in exchange for the release of the vessel and crew.

"[We have] received positive confirmation from the master of the Comoros-flagged tanker, Aris 13, that his ship and crew are currently being held captive by a number of suspected armed pirates in an anchorage off the north coast of Puntland, close to Alula," the naval force said.

The ship was on its way to deliver oil in Mogadishu on Monday when it made a mayday alert. It then disappeared from the tracking system and shifted its course towards Alula, a port town in  Somalia.

“The ship reported it was being followed by two skiffs yesterday afternoon. Then it disappeared,” Mohamud Ahmed Eynab, district commissioner for Alula, a port town in Somalia, told Reuters.

Naval security personnel have already been deployed to track the ship

The Sri Lankan government confirmed on Tuesday that the ship has eight Sri Lankan seafarers on board, and that action has already been taken to ensure the safety of the workers.

“Initial enquiries have revealed that while the vessel involved is not registered under a Sri Lankan flag, it has [an eight] member Sri Lankan crew,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement obtained by Gulf News.

“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.”

According to a maritime database, Equasis, Aris 13 is owned by Armi Shipping SA, but is in the care of Aurora Ship Management, which is located in Fujairah, UAE.

Piracy incidents off the Somali coast had earlier declined after authorities beefed up security patrols. According to seafarers' accounts, maritime patrols would normally escort commercial vessels passing through the area believed to be plagued by pirates.