Two vessels freed following Somali pirate hijackings

The rise in pirate activity off Somalia suggests the impact of the Gaza war continues to spread across the region.

An armed Somali pirate keeping vigil on the coastline near Hobyo, northeastern Somalia [File: AFP]Published On 29 Jan 202429 Jan 2024

One Sri Lankan and one Iranian vessel are reported to have been freed following hijackings by Somali pirates.

Seychelles forces rescued a Sri Lankan fishing boat on Monday, according to President Wavel Ramkalawan’s office. Meanwhile, the Indian Navy said it had freed an Iranian-flagged fishing vessel.

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The attacks on the vessels “by armed Somali pirates”, according to the Seychelles statement, raise further concerns over security in the region’s waters. Amid the war in Gaza, Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels have waged a campaign targeting ships in the Red Sea.

“Seychellois special military forces boarded the boat with utmost courage to take complete control of the vessel and rescue our Sri Lankan brothers,” the presidency said in the statement.

Sri Lanka had earlier reported that diplomats were talking with Somali authorities trying to ascertain the whereabouts of a fishing vessel and its six crew members.

The apparent abduction had come two weeks after Sri Lanka said it would join the US-led operation to protect merchant vessels sailing in the Red Sea against the Houthi attacks.

Meanwhile, the Indian Navy announced that it had freed an Iranian fishing vessel hijacked off the coast of Somalia.

“The fishing vessel had been boarded by pirates and the crew taken as hostages,” Indian Navy spokesman Commander Vivek Madhwal said, naming the vessel as the Iranian-flagged Iman.

An Indian naval warship had “ensured the successful release of all 17 crew members along with the boat,” he added.

The suspected hijackings in waters off Somalia have raised concerns that Somali pirates have resumed activity, a decade after they caused chaos in international shipping.

The hijacking of the Sri Lankan vessel occurred in international waters about 840 nautical miles (1,555km) east of Somalia, 1,100 nautical miles (2,040km) from Sri Lanka and north of Seychelles, Sri Lankan Navy spokesman Captain Gayan Wickramasuriya said.

Two to three armed men had arrived in a 23m (75-foot) vessel, boarded the fishing trawler, fired shots apparently to warn away other fishing boats nearby, and taken away the fishing trawler and the fishermen, said Susantha Kahawatta, a top official in Sri Lanka’s Fisheries Department.

Kahawatta added that all details of the abduction were provided by fishermen in the other trawlers, and they identified the attackers as Somali.

Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels have launched scores of attacks in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden in response to Israel’s war in Gaza against the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

International naval forces previously patrolling the Gulf of Aden have diverted north into the Red Sea in a bid to halt the attacks.

That has sparked fears that Somali pirates could seek to exploit the vacuum. A first successful case of Somali piracy since 2017 was recorded in December.

Source: News Agencies