A passenger ferry has been hijacked in the Sea of Marmara, just off the northwestern coast of Turkey, by up to five gunmen, according to local officials.

The ferry, named Kartepe, was reportedly carrying more than 20 passengers and six crewmembers.

Ercan Topaca, the regional governor of Kocaeli, told Turkish media the ferry was travelling from Izmit to Golcuk and was hijacked at 17:45 local time.
BBC reported that the ship’s captain was permitted to briefly speak to a Turkish TV station. He informed them that the hijackers said they belonged to the HPG, the armed wing of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

Earlier reports claimed there was only one hijacker. At that time, the mayor of Izmit Ibrahim Karaosmanoglu told reporters: The person hijacking the ferry said he was a member of the PKK and wanted to draw attention to it in the media.”

NTV channel reported that one of the hijackers claimed to be carrying a bomb and threatened to detonate it if police or government forces tried to board or intercept the vessel.

Meanwhile, state-run TRT television reported that three coast guard boats ware shadowing the ferry, which appears to be heading towards Tuzla near Istanbul.

A particularly intriguing aspect of this episode is that the ship was seized not far from the island of Imrali, where Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK leader, is serving a life sentence. Turkish security forces are reportedly concerned the hijackers may seek to approach the island prison (where Ocalan is the sole inmate) in an effort to free him.

Ocalan has been incarcerated in the prison since 1999.

The PKK, which is seeking greater autonomy in Kurdish-dominated southeastern Turkey, has recently stepped up its insurgency against the Turkish state, resulting in hundreds of deaths.