Somali pirates hijack first merchant vessel since 2012
Somali pirates reemerged on the scene this week, with confirmation of the hijacking of the MT ARIS 13, a tanker vessel en route to Mogadishu from Djibouti.
The ship was seized approximately 18 km off the northern tip of Somalia. This incident marks the first hijacking of a merchant vessel since the height of Somali piracy in 2012.
The Comoros-flagged tanker consists of a crew of eight Sri Lankans and was carrying a cargo of gas and fuel. It is understood to have not been registered with the Maritime Security Center for the Horn of Africa, an organization that registers and tracks commercial traffic in the region.
The MT ARIS 13 reported that it had been approached by two skiffs, with weapons sighted on one of the boats. The vessel soon dropped communication and was reported by EUNAVFOR to have been hijacked by pirates. It was then taken to the coastal town of Caluula in Somalia’s Puntland state.
The tanker was preparing to cut through the Socotra Gap between the tip of Somalia and the island of Socotra, a route frequently used as a cost- and time-saving measure for vessels traveling down the east coast of Africa despite the threat of piracy.
ARIS 13 has a low freeboard of only three meters and was moving at a slow speed of five knots. These factors are believed to make the vessel an easier target for pirates, who typically board ships with ladders from fast moving skiffs.
The group claiming responsibility for the vessel’s capture belongs to the Majerteen/Siwaaqroon sub-clan, led by the pirate Jacfar Saciid Cabdulaahi.
According to Oceans Beyond Piracy (OPB), a counter-piracy association, this attack "reinforces the need for vessels to follow shipping industry Best Management Practices (BMP) within the BMP specified High Risk Area."
While this incident marks the first major hijacking since 2012, OPB has insisted that this does not yet indicate a large-scale return of Somali piracy. However, Somali pirates have still been quite active in recent months.
"Piracy has diminished since 2012, largely due to mitigating efforts at sea by international naval forces, adherence to industry BMPs, and the use of private security," OPB said in a press release. "However the situation in Somalia that originally permitted piracy to flourish has not changed. This has left the door open for other forms of maritime crime, such as smuggling and trafficking. There is a need for continued vigilance against piracy and other forms of maritime crime in the region."
The latest State of Maritime Piracy Report indicates several emerging trends. These include a rise in the number of reported failed attacks and suspicious incidents in 2016. Meanwhile, armed security teams deterred 11 attacks last year.
The Muhammadi, attacked on 22 November 2015 roughly 250 nm off Eyl, is the last known hijacking incident in the region. On October 22, the CPO Korea, a UK-flagged chemical tanker, was approached by a skiff of armed men who exchanged fire with the security team. In addition to the eight Sri Lankans on the MT ARIS 13, Somali pirates are still holding eight seafarers from the fishing vessel, the Siraj, who were captured on 26 March, 2015.
Update 16/03/2017: On March 16 2017 the crew of the MT ARIS 13 was released from Somali pirate hands due to the efforts of the Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF). The entire crew is reported unharmed. Under the care of the PMPF, the MT ARIS 13 is now proceeding to the Somali port city of Bosasso. The PMPF, with the help of local Somali authorities and clan elders in the Xabo region, engaged in a firefight with the pirates, which led to the resolution the situation. This operation marks a success in the maritime policing of Somali waters by local law enforcement. The Puntland Maritime Police Force was formed in 2010 and was deployed against pirates for the first time in 2012. The PMPF has had several successes, including the release of the MV Iceberg 1, the dramatic cliff top rescue of the fishing vessel the al- Amal, and the recent operation against ISIL militants in the town of Qandala.