MOGADISHU: Somali pirates have seized an Indian cargo ship and 11 crew members, the ship’s owner said Monday, as a recent series of hijackings raises fears of a resurgence in piracy.
The “Al Kausar” is the third vessel to be hijacked in less than a month off the coast of Somalia as experts warn that ships have lowered their guard in the five years since the height of the piracy crisis.
The Indian cargo ship was carrying items such as wheat and sugar from Dubai via Yemen to Somalia’s Bossaso port when it came under attack, owner Isaak Them told AFP.
“The vessel was hijacked on Friday (March 31) from mid-sea. One of the crew members called me on Saturday evening and informed me about the hijacking,” said Them.
“We have asked those who loaded their goods in the vessel in Dubai to make efforts to salvage our crew and the vessel.”
The president of the Kutch Seafarers Association, Adam Them, from the western state of Gujarat where the vessel originated, told AFP that the pirates had already made ransom demands.
“We got a call from one of the crew members today that the pirates have demanded money from the owners of the goods in the vessel,” he said.
“Negotiations are on. The crew member further informed that five gunmen were onboard the vessel … However, nobody has been hurt.”
Mohamed Samater, a security official from Puntland on the northeastern tip of Somalia, confirmed that a ship had been hijacked, but did not have further details.
Somali pirates began staging attacks in 2005, seriously disrupting a major international shipping route and costing the global economy billions of dollars.
At the peak of the piracy crisis in January 2011, 736 hostages and 32 boats were held.
Though anti-piracy measures ended attacks on commercial vessels, fishing boats have continued to face attacks sporadically.
However on March 13, pirates seized the Aris 13 oil tanker and eight Sri Lankan hostages in the first attack on a large merchant vessel by Somali pirates since 2012.
The pirates claimed to be driven by anger over illegal fishing in Somali waters which has long been seen as a key grievance behind piracy in the country.
While some hostages have been held for as long as five years, the pirates released the Aris 13 and its crew just four days after it was seized.
A week later a local cargo dhow was hijacked and taken out to sea, with the Oceans Beyond Piracy NGO warning it may be used as a “mother ship” for further attacks against larger vessels.
“We have seen a number of attacks over last few weeks which seems to confirm what we have always thought – that the pirates haven’t gone away but have merely been doing other things,” said John Steed — a former British army officer with Oceans Beyond Piracy, who has spent years negotiating the release of piracy hostages in Somalia.
He attributed the resurgence to a “reduction in precautions taken by shipping companies” such as travelling without armed guards, closer to shore and at slower speeds than recommended.
“While it is not an excuse a definite trigger is the high level of illegal fishing, lack of livelihoods and job creation along the coast, famine … but most of all opportunity.”