10 Indians, commercial vessel held by pirates in Somalia rescued

BE2C2 Report — India’s Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj on Wednesday informed that 10 Indians who were working as a crew on a commercial vessel which was hijacked off the coast of Somalia by pirates have been rescued.

The announcement was made by the minister on Twitter. “I am happy to inform that 10 Indian nationals working as crew on MV AL Kausar which was hijacked by pirates have been rescued.”

The captain of the boat told VOA that the crew were held on land for nine days before they were freed by Somali security forces in an operation near the village of Dugulle in the Mudug region on Wednesday.

Security forces detained four pirates who were holding the crew after moving them from their boat off the coast of Hobyo.

Captain Salim Osman, 31, said the boat was traveling from Dubai to Bosaso when the pirates attacked it April 1. “This date I will never forget it, this was April Fools’ Day,” he said.

Pirates had stormed the “Al Kausar” ship off the Indian Ocean coast near Yemen, holding the 10-man crew hostage.

Maritime experts say piracy is reemerging in Somali waters following an increase in illegal fishing, but Somali regional security forces appear to be better prepared this time to face the challenge.

On March 16, pirates also abandoned a Sri Lankan-flagged ship, Aris 13, after Puntland security forces briefly exchanged gunfire with pirates.

Piracy and illegal fishing in Somalia

In recent weeks, a number of attacks by Somali pirates have taken place, after a noticeably calm five-year period in the region.

Last Tuesday, a Pakistani cargo vessel carrying food was highjacked off the coast of Somalia. This attack follows one from last month, when Somali pirates hijacked an oil tanker with eight Sri Lankan crew members — the attack marked the first successful capture of a large commercial ship by Somali pirates in the last five years.

The tanker—a United Arab Emirates property—while traveling from Djibouti to Mogadishu, was diverted to a port in Alula, a small town in Puntland, a semi-autonomous region in northeast Somalia. This increase goes against the experience of recent years (Figure 1), where attacks by Somali pirates considerably declined after 2012.

Figure 1: Attacks (actual and attempted) by Somali pirates. Source: ICC International Maritime Bureau.

The decline in piracy has been partly attributed to an improvement of patrol efforts off the Somali coast, notably by the European Union Naval Force, which manages the anti-piracy efforts in the region.

One of the key underlying economic reasons of piracy in Somalia is the depletion of seafood resources through illegal fishing by foreign companies. The pirates who captured the UAE oil tanker last month claimed to be fishermen whose equipment was destroyed by illegal fishing vessels, says a report on Piracy in Africa by the Brookings Institution.

In 2009, a Time magazine article highlighted the transformation of Somali waters into a “free-for-all” fishing site where international fleets illegally collected more than $300 million worth of seafood.

Foreign vessels have been increasingly present in Somali waters, with seafood captures doubling or even tripling those of Somali fishermen (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Estimated catch by foreign vessels and Somali vessels in Somali waters, 1981–2013. Source: Securing Somali Fisheries, Secure Fisheries, 2015

The Somali law does prohibit foreign ships from fishing within 15 miles of the coast, with the aim of protecting small-scale fishers.

In addition to violations by foreign vessels, instances of corruption on the Somali side have also contributed to the depletion of fish stocks in the region.

Reports state that Puntland’s government has sold $10 million worth of fishing licenses to China, going against the Somali law, which states that fishing permits must be purchased through the central Somali government.

In addition to illegal fishing and corruption, other factors behind the resurgence of piracy in the region include drought and famine.

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