Somali Forces Rescue Indian Ship from Pirates, Chinese Crew Rescues Tuvalu-Based Vessel

Tuvalu-registered timber-carrying ship cargo ship, MV OS-35, survived a hijacking by Somali pirates, after they abandoned it, and its crew was freed by a Chinese naval crew last Sunday. Photo: EU NAVFOR Somalia

  • Somali security forces have freed a hijacked Indian cargo ship from Somali pirates.
  • Chinese naval crew freed the crew of a Tuvalu-registered ship that had been boarded by Somali pirates who had fled.
  • Somali pirates have carried out or attempted three hijackings of international cargo vessels in the past month, their first attacks since 2012, but have made no money from ransoms so far.

Somali security forces have rescued an Indian cargo ship hijacked by Somali pirates, and its 10-member crew, while a Chinese naval crew freed the crew of a Tuvalu-registered vessel that had been boarded by Somali pirates over the past weekend.

The Indian ship was hijacked at the end of March in what was the second hit of Somali pirates in a month, after a five-year lull in piracy in the Gulf of Aden.

In mid-March, Somali pirates hijacked an oil tanker in the Indian Ocean, which was transporting oil from Djibouti to Somalia’s capital Mogadishu. Even though they at first demanded ransom, they later released both the ship and the 8 crew members from Sri Lanka without taking any money.

The release was achieved as a result of a gun fight between the pirates and a marine force from Somalia’s semi-autonomous region Puntland, which was followed by “intensive” negotiations between pirates, the marine force, and clan elders.

The hijacking in mid-March 2017 was the first time Somali pirates had taken control of an international merchant vessel since 2012, after they had made hundreds of millions from ransom money in the years prior.

Pirates under Siege

Somali security forces saved the Indian ship Al Kausar and two of its 10 crew members on Monday, AFP reported.

The pirates escaped with the other eight who, however, were also freed on Wednesday, according to a Somali official.

“The security forces overwhelmingly besieged them and the pirates tried to flee, but three of them were captured,” Abdirashid Mohamed Ahmed, the deputy commander of the maritime force in Somalia’s Galmudug state, told AFP.

Ahmed added that the newly freed crew members were “safe and healthy”. He did not reveal the sailors’ nationalities.

Another Rescue from Pirates

Before the rescue of the Indian ship, on Sunday, sailors from the Indian, Pakistani and Chinese navies freed the crew of the MV OS-35, a Tuvalu-registered vessel which had been boarded by pirates, the BBC reported.

Nineteen crew members were freed after on Saturday Somali pirates had boarded a timber-carrying ship about 75 miles (120 km) from the coast of Yemen. A Chinese team boarded the vessel early on Sunday.

A spokesman for UK Marine Trade Operations (UKMTO) in Dubai, who co-ordinate safe passage for merchant vessels in the Gulf of Aden, said all on board the hijacked ship were safe and heading to an unnamed destination under escort.

The UKMTO said the crew was from Syria, but a statement by India’s ministry of defence said they were from the Philippines. Reports in India said the hijacked ship was travelling between the ports of Kelang in Malaysia and Aden in Yemen.

The UKMTO said navy ships from India, China and Pakistan (the last operating as part of an international combined task force) changed course to approach the Tuvalu-flagged ship soon after the alert was raised.

The crew had locked themselves in the citadel, a safe room inside the ship designed to protect those on board from pirates.

The crew from the Chinese ship boarded the hijacked ship at dawn on Sunday, freeing those on board. India’s military said it is believed the hijackers fled the ship during the night.

Piracy Reborn

Somali pirates began hijacking international merchant ships in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean as early of 2005.

According to some estimates, since 2007 Somali pirates have made a total of USD 7 billion since 2007.

In January 2011, at their height, Somali pirates held 736 hostages and 32 vessels.

The rise of Somali piracy led the UN, NATO, the EU, and China to intervene, successfully ending the hijackings of commercial vessels.

Since then, Somali piracy even made it to Hollywood, with the 2013 film Captain Phillips starring Tom Hanks telling the story of the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama in 2009.

Fishing boats have remained a target for Somali pirates. In 2016, they seized two fishing boats, a Yemeni and an Iranian one, which were fishing illegally in Somali waters. Eight Iranian sailors are still held as hostages by Somali pirates.

The rise of maritime piracy off the coast of Somalia, which has the longest coastline of all countries on the African mainland, has been linked to the growth of illegal fishing by foreign trawlers and illegal dumping of toxic waste which have destroyed the livelihood of local fishermen. Many of them have thus become the foot soldiers in the army of pirates.

This has has been made possible by the chaos inside Somalia which has been in a state of civil war since a leftist regime collapsed there in 1991.

Often described as the definition of a failed state, Somalia has had a weak central government controlling only the area around the capital Mogadishu. Some of Somalia’s regions, most notably, Somaliland and Puntland in the north, remain largely  autonomous.

Islamist militant group Al-Shabab still controls large territories in the southern third of Somalia.

The central government in Mogadishu has been trying to put the country back together with the recent election of a new President, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, aka “Farmajo”.

Because of the ongoing civil conflict and a drought, Somalia is presently facing a devastating famine crisis.

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