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ISLAMABAD: Mystery surrounds a reported missile attack on a merchant ship manned by Pakistani crew off the coast of Yemen, near the war-torn country’s Hodeidah port.

Syed Mohammad Ahmed, an official of Arabian Marine Services, the manning agent of the Iranian vessel MV-Jouya-8, claimed that eight Pakistani sailors, seven of whom had been provided by his company, were on the ship when it was hit by a missile four days ago.

The ship was reportedly on its way to Dubai after delivering cargo in Egypt.

Talking to Dawn over the phone, Mr Ahmed said, his information was based on a telephone call received from Mr Kabir, the chief officer of the ship, who reportedly jumped off and swam to the coast.

“The fate of other seven Pakistani crew members is still unknown,” he said, adding the vessel probably sank after the strike.

He said Mr Kabir had called him from Yemen.

The Red Sea port of Hodeidah is controlled by Houthi militia.

“It was a minute and a half call and the quality of voice was very bad so I don’t have more details,” said Mr Ahmed, adding that he had shared the available information with the Pakistan Navy.

There was no claim about the source of the attack.

Earlier this month at least six Pakistani sailors were killed when their ship was bombed by Saudi jets off Mokha coast in the Yemeni province of Ta’izz. It remains unclear what happened to the other six on board that ill-fated ship.

A Pakistan Navy official, however, contested the claim. He said the provided information could not be verified.

“The location of the said vessel on the mentioned date and site of the attack could not be established,” he added.

Rights activist Ansar Burney said he had sought help from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Russia and Iran for locating the vessel and finding the missing crew.

He said he had also written letters to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Chief of the Army Staff Gen Qamar Bajwa and Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Mohammad Zakaullah.

Published in Dawn, December 23rd, 2016