Kurdish rebels hijack passenger ferry, Turkey says
At least four hijackers claiming to be Kurdish rebels took control of a ferry carrying 25 people off Turkey's north-western coast on Friday, according to the country's transport minister.
REUTERS - Up to five suspected Kurdish militants claiming to be carrying a bomb hijacked a passenger ferry carrying 25 people in northwestern Turkey on Friday, the country’s transport minister said.
Coastguard vessels were tracking the ferry in the Gulf of Izmit but they had not made contact with the hijackers, minister Binali Yildirim told the NTV news channel.
He said the hijackers had not yet made any demands.
Between four and five hijackers were on board the ferry in the Marmara Sea, east of Istanbul, and one of the assailants was standing next to the ship’s captain claiming to be carrying a bomb, he said.
“One of the terrorists is standing next to the captain and says he has explosives on him,” Yildirim said.
“He is saying they are a wing of the terror organisation,” he added, using a common description for the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). “So far there has been no concrete demand.”
The “Kartepe” ferry was carrying 19 passengers and six crew members between Izmit and Golcuk when it was hijacked around 5.45 pm (1545 GMT), Yildirim said.
Some reports said the assailants had overpowered the captain of the ferry and seized passengers’ mobile phones.
Ibrahim Karaosmanoglu, the mayor of Kocaeli, which is located on the Gulf of Izmit, said one assailant had told the crew he was from the PKK.
“The person hijacking the ferry said he was a member of the PKK and wanted to draw attention to it in the media,” Karaosmanoglu told broadcasters.
Security forces were prepared for the possibility the hijacker may want to take the vessel to nearby Imrali island in the Sea of Marmara, where PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan has been jailed since 1999, CNN Turk reported.
“Don’t intervene. I have a bomb. I will detonate it,” CNN Turk reported the hijacker as telling security forces.
Yildirim said he was only able to receive limited information from the ferry but he had not received any communication to suggest any of the passengers had been harmed.
He said the ferry was zig-zagging its way across the Marmara Sea. Three coastguards and a helicopter were following the 400-passenger capacity ferry.
Kurdish, leftist and Islamic militants are all active in Turkey. More than 40,000 people have been killed in the PKK insurgency since the group took up arms against the state in 1984.
PKK guerrillas have staged a series of attacks on Turkish armed forces this year and killed 24 soldiers in an attack in Hakkari, bordering Iraq, last month.
That attack triggered cross-border operations by the Turkish military against the militants. Several thousand PKK fighters are based in the mountains of northern Iraq, from where they launch attacks on security forces in southeast Turkey.
A series of airplane hijackings have been carried out in the last two decades but they have been rare in recent years and hijackings at sea are even rarer.
In January 1996, pro-Chechen gunmen hijacked a Black Sea ferry with 200 passengers on board and threatened to blow it up in protest at a Russian attack on Chechen separatists. Those hijackers surrendered three days later.