Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 28 September 2020

Somali pirates release three Iranian hostages held for five years

Gunmen boarded Panama-flagged ship with 20 crew aboard on Wednesday, reports suggest, in first raid since 2017

The Aegean II was sailing from the UAE to Mogadishu in Somalia when it was reportedly seized by Somali pirates. Reuters
The Aegean II was sailing from the UAE to Mogadishu in Somalia when it was reportedly seized by Somali pirates. Reuters

Somali pirates released three Iranian hostages after five years, a security official said on Thursday, as conflicting reports emerged about whether another ship had been seized after a three-year pause in hijackings.

The three Iranians were the last of the crew of the fishing vessel FV Siraj, which was captured by pirates on March 22, 2015. Between 2010 and 2019, more than 2,300 crew were taken.

“This marks the end of an era of Somali piracy and the pain and suffering of Somalia’s forgotten hostages,” said John Steed, the co-ordinator of the Hostage Support Programme organisation in Nairobi, Kenya.

But six armed men hijacked the Panama-flagged Aegean II on Wednesday after engine problems were reported, a regional governor in Somalia said.

Musse Salah, the governor of Gardafu in the semi-autonomous northern region of Puntland, said the ship was travelling from the UAE to Mogadishu when pirates attacked it in the first successful hijacking since 2017.

There were 20 crew onboard, a resident in contact with the men who seized the ship said.

A regional security official said the men appeared to have links to a militia police unit in the Bari region of north-eastern Somalia.

Jay Bahadur, a Somali piracy analyst and former head of a UN group of experts enforcing an arms embargo on Somalia, said that being a pirate and a member of the police were not mutually exclusive.

Mr Bahadur said it appeared that a group of men wearing police uniforms boarded the ship, robbed the crew and took the weapons of a private security team.

The man reported to be the ringleader of the attack on the Aegean II had repeated phone contact with another pirate who was part of a group that carried out Somalia’s last hijacking in 2017, he said.

The contact happened in the months before the 2017 raid.

“If it was indeed the police, it bears resemblance to one of the earliest Somali piracy incidents, when members of the Puntland coastguard hijacked the boat they were supposed to be guarding,” Mr Bahadur said.

Satellite tracking data showed that the ship appeared to have rounded the Horn of Africa and had gone south past the Somali port of Hafun before turning sharply north and docking at Bereeda.

Pictures rom Bereeda showed the Aegean II, a small tanker that carries chemical or crude products.

The EU Naval Force was checking on the incident, a source in its Somalia Joint Operation Centre said.

At the height of their power in 2011, Somali pirates launched 237 attacks off the coast, the International Maritime Bureau said.

The number of attacks later tumbled as shipping conpanies strengthened security, including look-outs, sailed farther off Somalia and hired private security.

International warships operating as part of a coalition prevented several attacks.

Somalia has been riven by civil war since 1991 and is controlled by militias, pockets of federal forces, African Union peacekeepers and insurgents.

Updated: August 24, 2020 03:25 AM

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