Somali Pirates have returned to the waters of Eastern Africa as a large commercial vessel wash hijacked along the busy shipping route this week in the first incident since the regular Somali seizures of 2012. Pirates have warned, “in the coming days we are going to seize even more foreign ships.”

  • Assault carried out on MT Aris 13, a tanker vessel.
  • The group claiming responsibility belongs to the Majerteen/Siwaaqroon sub-clan.
  • Hijacks cost companies billions of dollars at the height of attacks in 2011 with a total of 176 attacks.
  • NATO’s counter-piracy operation was so successful that officials decided in December that it was no longer necessary.

En route to Mogadishu from Djibouti, the tanker vessel has been held and eight Sri Lankan crewmembers are being held hostage with a demand for ransom payments.

This hijacking, along with the Somali pirates’ warning will raise fear that the return of widespread piracy could be around the corner on one of the world’s busiest shipping routes.

The pirates spoke to media on Tuesday, “We are fishermen who decided to take up arms and defend ourselves. The resources of our ocean are being depleted by these ships. We will clear them.”

Attacks in the region have nearly stopped since their peak in 2011 as more foreign navies have been keeping watch in the region, and with shipping companies taking greater precautions when traversing the Somalian shipping lanes using armed guards on board ship and traveling at faster speeds.

“The very presence of this international naval force deterred pirates from pursuing their activities and contributed to the suppression of piracy in the region,” said a NATO statement last year.

The last attack occurring in 2012 saw the MV Smyrni carrying 135,000 tonnes of crude oil hijacked and their crew of 26 held hostage for 10 months before an undisclosed ransom was paid.

A warship has been sent to the Somali coast by the 31-nation Combined Maritime Forces’ anti-piracy team.

The facts

MT Aris 13 was hijacked approximately 11 miles off the northern tip of Somalia by pirates travelling in two boats, at least one of which was armed. The EU Naval Force confirmed the capture saying they had received “positive confirmation from the master of the Comoros-flagged tanker” that the ship and crew are currently being held captive.

Somali fishermen have said the attack on the Aris 13 was an attempt to end the scourge of illegal fishing, mostly by Asian ships, in their local waters.

The vessel was being used to carry gas and oil to refuel other ships in port.

It was travelling though the Socotra Gap, between the tip of Somalia and the island of Socotra, in order to save money and time – but the risk of piracy increases.

It was easy to target because it had a low freeboard (the distance from the waterline to the upper deck level) or just 3 meters, making it easy for pirates to board the ship. Additionally it was only traveling at 5 knots, making the pirate’s task easier again.

Conditions still exist for piracy to thrive in Somalia

While the attack will certainly be of concern to authorities and shipping companies, Oceans Beyond Piracy said: “While this incident marks the first major hijacking since 2012, it does not yet indicate a large-scale return of Somali piracy.” Despite this assertion, the conditions that originally allowed Somali pirates to hijack vast numbers of vessels still remain.

The country is on the brink of yet another famine that could see more people tempted by piracy; meanwhile the country has been entangled in 25 years of conflict.

In 2016, the number of failed attacks and incidents rose with security teams onboard vessels deterring 11 attacks. Last week one ship was approached and followed for 40 minutes before the two boats, carrying at least 20 armed pirates, gave up.