According to reports, the 1,800 dwt oil tanker Aris 13 sent a distress signal on Monday 13 March reporting that it was being followed by two skiffs before turning off its AIS and setting course for the Somali coast. It is believed that the tanker had a crew of eight on board as she was on her way from Djibouti to Mogadishu when she disappeared.
In the years preceding this attack, many organisations from the shipping and oil industry called for vessels to remain vigilance when in the area, warning that while the worst of it seemed to be over the risk of an attack remained high. The High Risk Area (HRA) in the Indian Ocean was reduced in size at the end of 2015 as a result of the drop in armed attacks and hijacks in the region's waters. Analysis from maritime risk management consultancy MAST in June 2016 warned that the ‘reduced naval presence and fewer security teams aboard freighters had resulted in elevated levels of pirate activity’.
Subsequently, EU Navfor reported that a chemical tanker had been attacked by suspected pirates off the coast of Somalia on October 22, 2016, though the crew had managed to successfully defend themselves. This just so happened to also be the same day the 26 hostages from the fishing vessel Naham 3 were released after being held by Somali pirates for four and a half years. Gerry Northwood OBE, COO at MAST and former Royal Navy Counter Piracy Commander said:
"With the current political situation in Somalia and the increasing confidence of those transiting through the Western Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden, it was very likely that such an attack was going to occur. The characteristics of the hijack are similar to some of the early piracy activity we saw around 2005, and those responsible will have analysed the changing economic and political situation around them and decided that now was an opportune time to launch an attack.
"Whilst this vessel was almost certainly a soft target, those who orchestrated the attack would have been acutely aware of the decreasing military presence in the area and the increasing numbers of ships which are not sufficiently capable of defending themselves against a hijack. We have always said that the intent and capability to make such attacks remains as high as ever within the coastal Somali communities and that they will return to the business model which proved so lucrative for them in the past if presented with an opportunity.
"The international community can ill afford the Indian Ocean to again become a hotspot for criminal pirate activity. It is a vital trading route into Europe and those ships and crew transiting it need to be protected, as it is the seafarers working in the region who are the ultimate victim of such activity.”