Suspected first Somali pirate attack since 2012
(March 14, 2017, Mogadishu, Sri Lanka Guardian) “Somali officials say pirates have hijacked a ship off the coast of the Horn of Africa nation. It is thought to be the first hijacking of a large commercial vessel there in about three years,” the Associated Press has reported.
“One official in the semi-autonomous state of Puntland said the incident occurred on Monday. The official said over two dozen men boarded the merchant ship off Somalia’s northern coast.”
Another official in Puntland said the ship is a Sri Lankan-flagged freighter and was being moved toward the coast. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the press.
A spokeswoman for the European Union Naval Force operation off Somalia, Flt. Lt. Louise Tagg, confirmed that an incident involving an oil tanker had occurred off the coast of Somalia and an investigation was underway.
Piracy off Somalia’s coast was once a serious threat to the global shipping industry. But it has lessened in recent years after an international effort to patrol near the country, whose weak central government has been trying to assert itself after a quarter-century of conflict.
But frustrations have been rising among local fishermen, including former pirates, at what they say are foreign fishermen illegally fishing in local waters.
Salad Nur, an elder in Alula, a coastal town in Puntland, told The Associated Press by telephone that young fishermen including former pirates have hijacked the ship.
“They have been sailing through the ocean in search for a foreign ship to hijack since yesterday morning and found this ship and boarded it,” he said. “Foreign fishermen destroyed their livelihoods and deprived them of proper fishing.”
A United Nations report seen by the AP in November said it had been almost three years since Somali pirates successfully hijacked a large commercial vessel, but they retain the capacity and intent to resume the attacks and lately have shifted to targeting smaller foreign fishing boats.
The EU force website currently lists no vessels or hostages held by pirates. Concerns about piracy off Africa’s coast have largely shifted to the Gulf of Guinea.
According to the latest report issued by the Ocean Beyond Piracy, “more than 3,000 seafarers have been held hostage by Somali pirates since 2001, with a significant, but unknown, number of seafarers kidnapped in other parts of the world. These seafarers, and their families, have faced fear and uncertainty, and in some cases, direct abuse. In addition to the 41 seafarers who remain in captivity as of the release of this report, the thousands of seafarers who have returned to their regular lives after being held hostage must address the challenges of reintegration and coping with their experiences.”
Meanwhile, London-based risk consultancy Control Risks has issued their report for the state of global maritime security for 2016. The report records that there were a total of 540 incidents worldwide last year and that overall there has been a 21% decrease in global maritime security incidents. Much of this can be attributed to an 83% decrease in maritime hijacks globally in 2016 compared with 2015 which is due to a significant decline in hijackings for theft in South-east Asia and the Gulf of Guinea following improvements in regional law enforcement.
However in stark contrast to the decline in hijacks, maritime kidnaps increased by 44% globally in 2016, driven by an increase in the Gulf of Guinea compared with 2015, and a surge in offshore abductions in the Sulu and Celebes Seas.
Another evolving trend in 2016 was the significant increase in cases where militants or terrorists targeted port infrastructure, naval and commercial vessels or offshore platforms, with Libya and Yemen accounting for most of these. With the continuing conflict between the Saudi and Gulf Arab States and the Iranian-backed Houthi insurgency in Yemen seeing increasingly sophisticated methods being used in attacks on sea going vessels this is liable to be an area of major concern throughout 2017. Sebastian Villyn, Maritime Risk Analyst at Control Risks commented that:
“The trends seen globally in 2016 highlight the dynamic nature of groups engaged in offshore crime. The interplay between sociopolitical developments onshore and the frequency of offshore crime was particularly visible in the Gulf of Guinea, and it was also telling how assailants in different regions are responding to security measures, or lack thereof, for instance in South-east Asia. Despite an overall global decrease in maritime security incidents, high-severity cases of maritime terrorism and kidnaps increased. These trends are likely to continue and pose a significant threat to maritime operators in 2017. Operators should therefore ensure that they have access to reliable and up-to-date information on the current threat landscape.”
Meanwhile in its special report of the Secretary-General of United Nations on the situation with respect to piracy and armed robbery at sea off the coast of Somalia published end of last year ( October 2016) observed that, the navy of Sri Lanka patrolled the exclusive economic zone and the sea lanes of communications south of Sri Lanka to deter acts of piracy. In addition, surveillance activities and the escorting of vessels conducted by other multilateral navies resulted in the high-risk area being shifted westward to the 65th parallel from the 78th parallel. The navy regularly conducted training exercises, including anti-piracy operations, with such navies when ships made port calls to Colombo harbour. Sri Lanka is facilitating the operations of armed sea marshals, on-board security teams of merchant ships, at the outer port limits off Galle and Colombo harbours and providing the sea marshals with safe custody of arms and ammunition, among other things. The operations have complemented other counter-piracy efforts off the coast of Somalia.”
Issuing a statement regarding alleged hijacking of Vessel by Somali pirates Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Colombo says that tThe Ministry is aware of media reports regarding the alleged hijacking of a reportedly “Sri Lankan-flagged fuel freighter” by pirates.
The Ministry is taking action to verify the alleged incident, and initial enquiries have revealed that while the vessel involved is not registered under a Sri Lankan flag, it has a 8 member Sri Lankan crew.
The Ministry continues to remain in touch with the shipping agents, concerned authorities, as well as relevant Sri Lanka Missions overseas to ascertain further information on the matter in order to ensure the safety and welfare of the Sri Lankan crew.
Therefore, as and when confirmed information regarding the alleged incident becomes available, the Ministry will share information in a manner that would not be prejudicial to the safety of the crew.