Al-Shabaab Broadens Its Reach by Providing Protection to Somali Pirates

Somali pirates attacked four vessels in December after a six-year hiatus from major attacks, coinciding with the relocation of international navies from the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea. This move aimed to protect maritime traffic from attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

According to reports from Emirati newspaper The National, some observers suggest that al-Shabaab militants in Somalia’s northern Sanaag region struck a deal to safeguard pirates in exchange for 30% of ransom proceeds and a share of loot. This arrangement could offer critical funds to al-Shabaab following governmental crackdowns on its illegal financial activities and frozen bank accounts. There are also suspicions that al-Shabaab is negotiating with pirates and Houthi rebels to procure weapons.

The first successful attack by Somali pirates on a merchant ship since 2017 occurred on December 14 when they targeted the Maltese-flagged cargo ship MV Ruen about 680 nautical miles east of Bosaso, Somalia. Pirates demanded ransom, stipulating no harm to the crew and their freedom post-payment.

The MV Ruen was held approximately 100 miles offshore, allegedly facilitated by an Iranian fishing vessel. Pirates sought more targets for hijacking and were reportedly using a second dhow for this purpose.

Indian Navy’s intervention led to the recapture of MV Ruen and the arrest of two dozen pirates. The piracy hotspot remains off the coastal town of Eyl in Somalia’s Puntland region, controlled by al-Shabaab.

In late December, heavily armed Somali pirates hijacked another vessel near Yemen’s Socotra Island, later steering it towards Eyl. Security officials suspect collaboration between pirates and arms dealers for control over coastal areas.

Piracy incidents increased slightly in the Gulf of Guinea, with 22 reported in 2023 compared to 19 in 2022, 35 in 2021, and 81 in 2020, according to the International Maritime Bureau.

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