Somali pirates begin hijacking ships again after Houthi attacks creates security vacuum

One Bangladeshi sailor apologised to his family before the line went dead. Another pleaded for his wife to pray for him and his kidnapped comrades. A third worried that unless a ransom was paid, they would be murdered one by one.

After more than five years without a hijacking in the Indian Ocean, Somali pirates are back.

The messages and voicemails sent by 23 Bangladeshi seafarers taken hostage this week graphically conveyed the crew’s fear after their cargo ship was seized off the Somali coast this week.

The capture of MV Abdullah, carrying 55,000 tonnes of coal from Mozambique to the United Arab Emirates, comes after the seizure of the Maltese-flagged bulk cargo ship Ruen in December.

That was the first successful hijacking involving Somali pirates since 2017, who back in their heyday from 2005 captured dozens of ships in a campaign estimated to have cost world trade several billions of dollars.

Up to £325 million ($413 million) was taken in ransom between 2005 and 2012, according to the World Bank, and at the height of the crisis pirates were holding 32 vessels and 736 hostages.

This dangerous resurgence has been sparked by the rise of Houthi attacks on shipping in the Red Sea, which has diverted naval resources.

The European Union’s anti-piracy taskforce in the region last week warned of “a notable surge in reported events that could potentially escalate into piracy attacks off the Somali coast”.

Somali pirates aboard the cargo ship Ruen after it was intercepted by the Indian Navy – SPOKESPERSON NAVY VIA X/REUTERS

Three merchant ships have now been attacked since November, and 18 dhows hijacked. The dhows are thought to be used as “mother ships”, boosting the range of small skiffs to stage raids far out to sea. The Abdullah was reportedly attacked 600 nautical miles off the coast.

“We up-armed, up-gunned, sent more grey warships out there and grey aircraft to dominate the sea space. We thought we had done it and it was all over,” Conrad Thorpe, a former member of the Special Boat Service who now runs the Nairobi-based Salama Fikira security business, told The Telegraph.

But maritime security experts told The Telegraph that despite huge anti-piracy efforts, Somalia’s huge coastline, lack of development and extreme poverty means that such attacks remained an attractive trade for those with few economic prospects.

Mr Thorpe said: “They have got time on their hands, a lot of weapons and a huge amount of hunger to survive. They are human beings trying to put bread on their plates, trying to raise their families and in an economic desert, you go for the options that are available.”

“Is this a resurgence of the bad old days? The bad old days never went away.”

A boat sails next to the MV Abdullah in this screengrab obtained from a social media video released on March 12 – VIA REUTERS/REUTERS

On Saturday, an Indian navy warship finally intercepted Ruen and demanded the Somali pirates on board surrender and release any civilians they were holding, a navy spokesperson said.

But the crew on board the Bangladeshi-flagged Abdullah have not been so lucky.

The boat was on Saturday reported to be anchored seven miles off the Somali coast and authorities in Dhaka said they had yet to receive any demands from the hijackers.

Crew reported they were confined to the bridge at gunpoint, but the attackers had not hurt anyone.

“We are physically well, but a little bit distressed,” one crewman told his brother.

“When you know a big gun is pointed at you all the time, it’s not a good feeling, to say the least,” he added.

For now, the hostages on the Abdullah and their families must wait.

Dil Afroza, mother of the second engineer, Towfiqul Islam, told local journalists: “He apologised to us all. Then the line went dead, the pirates took his phone. I haven’t spoken to him since.

“I can’t reach him, I don’t know how he is. All of them need to be rescued, as soon as possible.”

The telegraph
By Ben Farmer

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