A Cambodian-flagged vessel believed to have been hijacked by Somali pirates was in fact detained by authorities at the port of Berbera in Somaliland on the Gulf of Aden, according to media reports published on Sunday.
News reports late last week said that on January 27, Somali pirates hijacked the MV Layla-S after it unloaded its cargo at the port of Berbera in an autonomous region of Somalia known as Somaliland, which formed its own government in the northwestern section of the country after the East African state collapsed in 1991.
The hijacking scenario seemed particularly plausible given the past year’s massive surge in attacks by Somali pirates on shipping vessels passing through the Gulf of Aden.
Despite its carrying the Cambodian flag, Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong told the Post on Thursday that the MV Layla-S was neither owned nor operated by Cambodians.
He said that he believed the crew consisted of Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Somali and Syrian nationals.
The piracy reports were challenged by a story from Somaliland Press, dated January 23 in Somali and January 24 in English, in which a reporter speaks with the ship’s Sri Lankan captain, a “Mr Sarath”, who explained that the ship had been impounded by port officials in September, leaving the crew to languish in increasingly poor health.
“Local analysts believe a local firm, Omar International [Company], may have filed a maritime action asking ... Berbera Port authority to obtain the ship for damages,” the article reads.
The captain explained that in early September of 2009, a vessel called the MV Mariam Star caught fire, resulting in major cargo losses for Omar International. The Layla-S was then seized in lieu of a settlement because it is owned by the same company as the Mariam Star, Dubai-based Al-Hufoof Shipping and Forwarding.
The Cambodian registration of the MV Layla-S is known as a “flag of convenience”, a registration in a third-party country which takes advantage of that country’s low costs and sparse regulations.