EU Navfor) has confirmed the hijacking of the tanker Aris 13 by Somali pirates as reported at the beginning of the week. The Comoros–flagged vessel was en route to Mogadishu from Djibouti when she was approached by two armed skiffs and was subsequently seized approximately 18 kilometres off the northern tip of Somalia, marking the first hijacking of a large merchant vessel since the height of Somali piracy in 2012.
The ship and the crew of eight Sri Lankans are currently being held captive by a ‘number of suspected armed pirates’ in an anchorage off the north coast of Puntland, close to Alula. This being the total number of seafarers being held by pirates in Somalia to a total of 16. Laden with a cargo of gas and fuel, the ship’s master had issued a mayday alert on March 13 reporting that it was being followed before all communication was lost.
Upon receipt of the mayday alert, an EU Navfor maritime patrol aircraft was launched from its base in Djibouti to overfly the tanker and make radio contact with the ship’s master. Despite hailing the ship several times, no contact was made and the situation on board remained unclear until late afternoon on Tuesday 14 March, when the EU Naval Force operational headquarters in London was able to make telephone contact with the ship’s master. The master confirmed that armed men were on board his ship and they were demanding a ransom for the ship’s release.
According to Oceans Beyond Piracy (OBP), the Aris 13 was preparing to cut through the Socotra Gap between the tip of Somalia and the Yemeni island of Socotra. This route is frequently used as a cost- and time-saving measure for vessels travelling down the east coast of Africa despite the threat of piracy. Additionally the Aris 13 has a low freeboard of only three metres and was moving at a slow speed of five knots. These factors made the vessel an easier target for pirates, who typically board ships with ladders from fast moving skiffs. This attack reinforces the need for vessels to follow shipping industry Best Management Practices (BMP) within the BMP specified High Risk Area.
OBP says that the group claiming responsibility for the vessel’s capture belongs to the Majerteen/Siwaaqroon sub-clan, led by the pirate Jacfar Saciid Cabdulaahi. While this incident marks the first major hijacking since 2012, it does not yet indicate a large-scale return of Somali piracy. However, Somali pirates have still been quite active in recent months with the situation exacerbated in a country currently riven by famine and in which the naval fleets in attendance have protection of food convoys as their principal task.
Various reports of this latest attack contain stories of shots being fired and ‘dozens’ of pirates being aboard the vessel but these are mostly unsubstantiated. Certainly there are the usual recurring reports of disgruntled fisherman who accuse international competitors of decimating their industry by overfishing meaning they must seek alternative ways of making a living. By and large however we have noticed over the years that, when captured, the pirates tend to be organised criminals rather than local residents who have become involved.
Photo: courtesy of EU Navfor.