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Hijacked ship may have been used in attack near Somalia, security groups say

By George Obulutsa and Jonathan Saul

NAIROBI/LONDON (Reuters) -Somali pirates who seized the Maltese-flagged bulk cargo ship Ruen in December may have used the vessel in the takeover of a Bangladesh-flagged cargo ship off the coast of Somalia two days ago, the European Union naval force said on Thursday.

Somali pirates caused chaos in important global waterways for a decade leading up to 2018, but had been dormant until a resurgence of attacks starting late last year.

If confirmed, Tuesday's attack from a confiscated ship would mark a return to a strategy used when pirates were very active.

Visual information showed that at least 12 alleged pirates boarded Abdullah, according to the EU's anti-piracy operation EUNAVFOR.

"It is possible that the origin of the pirates taking part in this hijacked [SIC] is the same as MV RUEN," it said, adding that Abdullah's crew has been reported to be safe.

British maritime security firm Ambrey on Thursday said "it was suspected the vessel may be used as a mothership to conduct further attacks on merchant vessels".

The Ruen - which has a black hull, red deck and a yellow smokestack with a red horizontal stripe - was seen sailing eastward 160 nautical miles (296 km) southeast of Eyl, Somalia, according to Ambrey. The firm advised other vessels in the area to increase vigilance.

The capture of the Ruen was the first successful hijacking involving Somali pirates since 2017, when a crackdown by international navies stopped a rash of seizures in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.

Ransom for the Ruen's kidnapped crew has not been paid, Ambrey said. Media reports say the pirates are holding 17 crew after releasing one for medical reasons.

Data from the Maritime Security Centre - Horn of Africa, the planning and coordination centre for EUNAVFOR, show there have been more than 20 hijackings or attempted hijackings of vessels in the Gulf of Aden and Somali Basin since November.

(Reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles, Jonathan Saul in London and George Obulutsa in Nairobi; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Jan Harvey)