MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) " Families of the Sri Lankan crew members held captive on an oil tanker are appealing to Somali pirates to release the men unharmed.

The hijacking on Monday was the first such seizure of a large commercial vessel off Somalia since 2012. It came as a surprise to the global shipping industry as international patrols had suppressed pirate hijackings for several years.

The European Union anti-piracy operation in the region announced late Tuesday that the armed men are holding the crew captive and demanding a ransom for the ship's release.

Namali Makalandawa, the sister of the tanker's chief officer Premnath Ruwan Sampath, said Wednesday that families have tried to contact the shipping company's office in Dubai but their calls were not answered.

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Makalandawa says they fear for their relatives' lives.