Reuters International

By Abdiqani Hassan

BOSASSO (Reuters) - Pirates who hijacked an Indian cargo dhow with 11 crew on board have moved the vessel to an undisclosed location within Galmudug waters off the Somali coast until their ransom demands are met, a pirate leader told Reuters on Tuesday.

The vessel, Al Kausar, was initially taken to El Hur, near the port of Hobyo in Somalia's semi-autonomous Galmudug state but was then moved to avoid approaching security personnel, pirates said.

Pirate leader Aw Kombe said negotiations were ongoing with businessmen in Kismayu over the release of Al Kausar, which was seized on Saturday.

"The traders want the dhow released without (any) ransom (being paid) but my friends say they (will) not release it without (getting) at least some cash," he added. "They are still discussing."

The Al Kausar was commandeered in the vicinity of Socotra Island while en route from Dubai to Puntland's port of Bosasso, according to United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), which coordinates shipping in the Gulf of Aden area.

A pirate who only gave his name as Aden told Reuters by phone from Harardhere: "The pirate leader on board heard Galmudug forces advancing to attack it. The dhow has now gone far into the ocean but is still in Galmudug waters."

Harardhere was also a major pirate base at the height of the hijackings in 2011.

Ship owners have become less wary of piracy after a long period of calm off the Horn of Africa, experts say, and some have started using a riskier route known as the Socotra Gap, between Somalia and Socotra Island, to save time and costs.

An oil tanker with eight Sri Lankan crew on board was hijacked last month but was released within a few days after a clash with Puntland's marine force.

That was the first such seizure of a vessel since 2012.

There was also some confusion about identity and origin of Al Kausar's hijackers.

Burhan Warsame, Galmudug's minister for ports and sea transport, told Reuters the same pirates who seized the oil tanker last month "must have hijacked this dhow".

But Abdirizak Mohamed Dirir, the former general director of Puntland's anti-piracy agency, said the dhow's location made it more likely that the pirates were from Galmudug.

Kombe, who headed the pirate gang that commandeered the oil tanker, told Reuters there were four groups of pirates from Puntland "who are still in ocean hunting for ships to hijack".

"The pirates holding it must be our friends from Galmudug state," Kombe said.

(Reporting by Abdi Sheikh and Abdiqani Hassan; Writing by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by)

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